How to stop a panic attack may be easier said than done, but there are ways and means to manage this valid mental health concern for millions worldwide.
When it concerns panic attacks, we know how they can shut you down and make you feel helpless. Panic attacks come on for several reasons, stress, trauma, phobia, and anxiety being some of them. Panic attacks are not the same and vary from individual to individual; they can also last from a minute to ten minutes, leaving people disoriented, frightened, and confused. Fortunately, there are several coping strategies that can help you regain control by reducing or preventing them.
Understanding a Panic Attack
Understanding panic attacks and panic disorders is crucial in helping you acknowledge and know what you’re going through. It is a sudden, intense episode of overwhelming fear and anxiety, accompanied by a range of distressing physical and psychological symptoms.
Panic attacks come on abruptly and often reach their peak within minutes. While some that last a few seconds can be mild, others can be frightening, leading individuals to believe they are experiencing a life-threatening situation, even though there is no immediate danger. It’s important to note that while panic attacks can be intense and distressing, they are not physically harmful in themselves.
Common Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- Rapid heart rate or palpitations.
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of suffocation.
- Sweating or chills.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Nausea or abdominal distress.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Numbness or tingling sensations.
- Feeling detached from reality or experiencing depersonalization.
- A fear of losing control or going insane.
- Fear of dying
Causes of Panic Attacks
Till now, medical science has not yet identified the exact causes of panic attacks or panic disorders. The causes of panic attacks can vary from individual to individual and depend on various factors, including biological, psychological, and environmental triggers. Research has found some of the most common reasons to be:
- Genetics: Some evidence shows that a tendency to experience panic attacks may run in families.
- Brain Chemistry: Changes in brain chemistry and imbalances in certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), such as serotonin and norepinephrine, can play a role in the development of panic attacks.
- Stress and Trauma: High levels of stress, traumatic events, or significant life changes can trigger panic attacks in some individuals.
- Phobias and specific triggers: Panic attacks can be triggered by specific situations or phobias, such as a fear of flying, heights, or enclosed spaces.
- Negative thinking patterns: Persistent negative thoughts and catastrophic thinking can contribute to the development of panic attacks.
- Substance use and withdrawal: Withdrawal symptoms from addiction to certain substances, including caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and substances such as benzodiazepines, can trigger panic attacks.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, or cardiovascular problems, can mimic the symptoms of a panic attack.
- Personality traits: People with certain personality traits, such as high levels of neuroticism or a tendency to worry excessively, may be more prone to experiencing panic attacks or panic disorders.
How To Stop a Panic Attack
No one likes having a panic attack, but the trick is to understand and identify the initial symptoms that start pulling you into one. Noticing a pattern of your bodily response to a panic attack or knowing how you begin to feel is the first step towards preventing one from taking control.
Grounding techniques can help anchor you to the present moment and divert your focus from the panic attack. One effective grounding method is the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This sensory exercise can help bring your attention back to reality and away from anxious thoughts.
Managing a panic attack is ultimately in your hands, so muster up your mental strength and distract yourself with some activity or jolt your senses. Use strong scents such as peppermint oil or touch an ice cube to snap your body out of its present state. You could also immerse yourself in meaningful work, focusing on it as if nothing else matters at that moment. You could also focus on a movie or listen to music.
Take yourself to a happy place where you begin feeling calm. You could visualize yourself somewhere imaginary or where you’ve never been before, or you could recall a vacation or a business that gave you happy memories. Try and identify as many details of the place such as smell, sound, taste of food, and anything that requires your brain to perform an activity other than your current situation.
Coping sttements re often helpful when lerning how to stop a panic attack. You could then talk to yourself using reassuring coping statements such as I am not afraid *This will pass* I know what to do, ” and * This is just a panic attack* I’ve handled this before; I can take it now.* I want to feel happy.
During a panic attack, your breathing quickens; this is your body’s flight or fight mode. Slow breathing is just the opposite, which will turn off the danger mode. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Now breathe deeply, inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth. Focus on your breathing the rise and fall of your belly. Be mindful, and combine this technique with self-reassuring statements. Repeat till you feel calm.
You can also try the 4-7-8 technique: Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for seven and exhale for eight. This method can help regulate your body’s stress response and bring calmness to the situation.
Panic attacks usually seem to hit you suddenly, but if you observe the patterns of your experience, you will find some triggers that bring it on. Identifying these triggers could help reduce your panic attacks. If you find you aren’t doing well, call a friend who understands you and will talk to you through the experience.
Adopting these stratgeies how to stop a panic attack will help, but if it is impacting your daily life, consider talking to a mental health professional. Therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy), counseling and, in some cases, medication may be recommended and will help. Ensocure Integrated Medicine in Bengaluru offers one on one affordable counselling for stress, depression, and anxiety in confidence.