Working with clients that suffer from panic attacks, I hear similar stories over and over. They will say that they do not know what happened, why the panic attack started or what may have caused it. They report a history of anxiety but now that they have experienced a panic attack they are concerned it will happen again or they are having increased panic attacks because of the fear of “feeling like they are dying.” Once you have experienced a panic attack your brain begins to tell you to be afraid and that you have no control of when or why they will happen. This is not true. You can do something about them and begin to regain control over your panic attacks!
Before you learn how to cope with and respond to a panic attack, you must first understand what is going on with your brain and your body. When you become triggered and have a panic attack your body releases adrenaline into your bloodstream. This causes your body to be on high alert. Your heartrate increases to pump more blood to your muscles. Your breathing becomes more shallow and rapid to take in more oxygen. All of your senses become more sensitive. These changes prepare your body to either run away or fight something that your brain has identified as being dangerous. But what is you are not in danger?
When you have a panic attack it is normally trigger by something that is not actually life threatening. Your brain has told your body something that is not true. Your body then responds and tells your brain that it is true. “If my heart is racing, a can hardly breath and my hands feel sweaty, I must be feeling this way for a reason!” because of this, the best way to cope with and respond to a panic attack is to regulate your body. Decrease your heart rate, slow down your breathing, take deep breathes, tell yourself that you are safe and going to be okay.
Once you feel a panic attack has begun or notice the early symptoms you can use these techniques to respond:
Deep breathing: Get in a relaxed position, breathe in through nose, feel the air fill your stomach, release the air through your mouth. Slow and steady.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Start at your feet. Tighten then release the muscles. Now move onto your calves. Continue until you reach the top of your head. Remember to breathe while you are doing it.
Find an object to focus on: Find an object, any object. Look at it, observe every detail, the color, size, texture, location, use, etc. Let your mind engage with this object as everything else in the room fades away. See how long you can find new details about the object.
Remember your happy place: We all have a location that is either connected to feeling relaxed or providing a happy memory. When you are not feeling panicked identify this place. When you begin to have a panic attack remember this place. Recall the smells, sounds, temperature, who you were with, and how you felt. Close your eyes and try to mentally go to that place.
Use a mantra: When your body is telling you that you are in danger, you need to talk back. Use a mantra such as, “I am safe, this is only temporary.” Let the mantra address the reality that you are in control.
If you are struggling with ADHD, depression or other mental health symptoms you need to reach out for help from others. You can and should receive help for what you are going through. If you are in the State of California feel free to contact us at Elevate Mental Health or look in your area for a psychologist, therapist or counselor to help you.