Quickened heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling hands, feeling faint, breaking out in a sweat…if you struggle with anxiety, you’re probably well aware of the symptoms that indicate you’re about to enter into a panic attack.
No matter how many times you’ve had one, a panic attack is always a frightening experience. The attack itself causes heightened anxiety, perpetuating the cycle. Use these six tips for stopping a panic attack before it completely takes over.
1. Employ diaphragmatic breathing
Many people associate deep breathing and mindfulness with calming nerves and distancing themselves from a panic attack. But the simple act of “breathing deeply”, isn’t enough. Diaphragmatic breathing involves taking breaths that stem from your stomach rather than your chest. Slow your breathing and count to four as your belly fills with air; hold the breath for a full second, and conclude by feeling your breath exit your body for another four seconds.These breaths serve many purposes as they soothe both your mind and body while maintaining an appropriate carbon monoxide level.
2. Realize what’s happening
If anxiety causes a panic attack, and a panic attack causes more anxiety, then the cycle can feel nearly impossible to break. The best way to control a panic is to put it in its place as it begins. Instead of overthinking the situation and worrying that you may be having a heart attack, or becoming fearful that you’ll pass out and hit your head, stop running through all of the worst-case scenarios. Recognize that what you’re experiencing is a panic attack, and as in times past, it will end in a matter of minutes. Bring your focus to coping skills you can utilize to manage it.
3. Ground yourself
Our minds can run wild when our body experiences a panic attack. Instead of becoming absorbed in the panic attack, place your attention on an external object. Find one thing in your sightline and focus all of your thoughts on that one item. Take a chair for example. What color is it? Does it have a pattern? What about its texture? Is there a blanket draped over it? Focusing on an external object can help get you out of your own mind.
4. Find a distraction
Similar to focusing on a physical object, some people like to find other ways to distract their minds. Phoning a friend, doing a chore, and drawing or writing can help ground you in the physical world instead of allowing you to become absorbed by the worries of your panic attack.
5. Go to your safe space
If physical distractions don’t work for you, it can be helpful to picture a mentally safe space. Envisioning yourself on a beach, lake, meadow or mountain range may help mentally distract you from your current situation. Make sure your safe space is somewhere mellow; the bustling streets of New York City, for example, might only stress you out further.
6. Use muscle relaxation
During a panic attack, our body’s natural reaction is to completely tense up. This often occurs without us even realizing it. In order to combat this, work on relaxing each one of your muscles one at a time. You can start small, focusing on just your fingers or toes and gradually work your way through your whole body.
Panic attacks can feel frightening but it’s important to remember that there’s always an end in sight. These six ways can help you combat a panic attack when you’re in the moment, but there are also ways to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Contact me if you’re interested in setting up an appointment to discuss managing your anxiety.