Panic attacks are more common than you might think. Research has shown that around 13% of people have had a panic attack during their lives; they can occur just once, or even become a regular occurrence for some people.
What happens during a panic attack?
Panic attacks are brief, but often frightening, instances of overwhelming fear or anxiety. Sometimes they occur seemingly out of nowhere, making them even scarier when they do happen.
During a panic attack, you might experience a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, tension in your muscles, and difficulty standing.
1. Understand that you are having a panic attack, not a heart attack.
Commonly, people mistake panic attacks for heart attacks. This is not their fault – the sensations are quite similar – and if the panic attack seems to come out of nowhere, it can be hard to differentiate between the two.
When you begin having a panic attack, it is important to consciously tell yourself, ‘This is a panic attack.’ If you allow your brain to run away with you and convince you that it is a heart attack, the symptoms will likely worsen. Keep telling yourself you are fine, and it will soon be over.
2. Sit down and close your eyes.
Panic attacks cause difficulty breathing, so it is important to sit down in case you faint.
Find somewhere to sit, even if it is on the floor, and close your eyes. Closing your eyes lets you focus on your breathing without distractions from the outside world.
3. Try to breathe in five-second intervals.
To stop yourself from hyperventilating (meaning breathing very quickly, causing a further state of panic), try to breathe in five-second intervals. Count the seconds as you inhale and exhale, and keep repeating this process.
By forcing yourself to breathe in this regimented way, you will gradually slow your heart rate, enabling your panic attack to slowly dissipate and eventually end.
This breathing technique can also prevent the panic attack from worsening, causing fainting or other concerns.
4. Envision your breath going in and out of your lungs.
If you are struggling to get yourself to breathe in a steady way – it can be very difficult when your body isn’t doing what you want! – try the envisioning technique. Close your eyes and picture your lungs expanding slowly, and contracting slowly, as you breathe.
By following the image of lungs slowly expanding and contracting, some people find that they can slow their breathing more easily.
5. Don’t try to stop it from happening.
One huge temptation when you feel an attack coming on is to try to stop it from happening altogether. Nobody wants to have a panic attack, but when one starts, fighting against it will only make things worse.
When you recognise that you are having a panic attack, try to allow it to happen without fighting, letting the sensation wash over you, however stressful it is.
Final Thoughts – Overall, having a panic attack isn’t a pleasant experience – but when you feel one happening, there are ways to get through it as quickly and easily as possible.