How to Stop a Panic Attack
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How to Stop a Panic Attack
A panic attack can be one of the most terrifying experiences a person can endure, and many people who suffer panic attacks on a regular basis are eager to learn exactly how to stop a panic attack. In this article, we will look at a few simple steps you can take to help you achieve your goal of being able to stop a panic attack, whether it’s you or someone else experiencing these symptoms.
The first step when learning how to stop a panic attack is acceptance. You cannot actually stop a panic attack dead in its tracks – there is no way to turn the symptoms off as you would a tap! Instead, you must focus on learning ways to lessen the symptoms and bring the attack to a close as quickly as possible. Once the symptoms have set in, attempting to shut them down immediately will only place the sufferer under a greater amount of pressure, which in turn feeds into their anxiety.
With this caveat in place, know that there are still plenty of proactive steps you can take to make the experience of a panic attack more bearable. Firstly, it is important that you remain aware and remind yourself of the simple facts concerning the situation. Tell yourself that although a panic attack is unpleasant, it cannot cause you any harm and that you are in no danger. It may be helpful to repeat a mantra or sentence that affirms this reality, for example, ‘This too shall pass, and I am in no physical danger.’ Accept the symptoms of a panic attack for what they are. Do not try and fight them, as this will only add extra tension to an already fraught situation.
If you feel the urge to flee from a harmless situation, person or object that is making you panic, try the waiting exercise. When you overcome your urge to run away from whatever it is that is making you anxious, you gain mastery over yourself and the situation. Give yourself permission to run away and hide – but on the condition that you count slowly to 20 first. Once you have finished your counting, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that a previously terrifying situation exerts less of a hold over you. In teaching yourself that there is nothing to fear and no harm will come to you, you have lessened the chances of future panic attacks because you have broken the link between a stimulus or set of stimuli and a particular set of feelings.
The next step is to make a note of the feelings you are experiencing. Carry a notepad and pen or digital recording device (you could also employ the voice memo function on your phone) and whenever you have a panic attack, write down the way it makes you feel. Note down every physical sensation. Are you sweating? Are you feeling unusually hot? Are you feeling sick, dizzy, or lightheaded? Write everything down. Your spelling and grammar doesn’t have to be perfect – this is for your personal use only.
Writing down how you are feeling serves three functions. Firstly, just the act of putting pen to paper (or recording a voice message) can provide a sufficient distraction that lessens your feelings of panic. Second, by recording your experiences, you are sending a clear message to yourself: you are worthy of your own time and effort, and you are taking your own difficulties seriously. Third, by taking an active role in observing what a panic attack feels like, you are better prepared if you should experience another in the future. Don’t forget to note down what you were doing at the time of the attack, how long the attack lasted, and what you did that make you feel better as you waited for the attack to pass.
As we established earlier, you are much better off aiming to make yourself as comfortable as possible as you wait for the symptoms of panic to pass, rather than attempting to stop a panic attack outright. There are two main techniques that can help you feel more in control and less distressed – deep breathing and self-talk. Both require practice in order to use them to their best effect, but both are worth the effort. If you have frequent panic attacks, you may even want to note down ‘Breathing/Self-talk’ on a piece of paper and stick it such a position that you are guaranteed to see it during the moments you need it most. You could write it on the back of your hand (or just ‘B/S-T’ if you feel self-conscious about the possibility of others knowing you experience panic attacks) – and glance at it when you start to feel the symptoms of a panic attack creeping up on you.
To use deep breathing effectively, sit or stand in a comfortable position. Put your shoulders back in such a way that opens up your chest. When you panic, you tend to ‘over-breathe’ and take in shallow breaths. This disturbs the natural oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body, which in turn contributes to symptoms such as tingling extremities and dizziness. To counter this disruption to your breathing pattern, deliberately make your breathing slower and take in deeper breaths. As you inhale, draw air as fully into your lungs as possible, and count to five. Exhale slowly, again counting to five. Repeat for a couple of minutes.
Self-talk is another important tool when it comes to handling panic attacks. You don’t have to speak aloud for this to work well, but if you are alone or in a situation with understanding people, saying the words out loud can enhance their effect. Remind yourself that people do not die of panic attacks. Tell yourself that the panic attack will pass soon, and that your symptoms are just a natural manifestation of an overworked nervous system. Remind yourself that you are not destined to suffer like this forever, and that you can take care of yourself.
In conclusion, it is not possible to immediately stop a panic attack, but it is definitely possible to use acceptance, deep breathing and positive self-talk to make the experience of waiting for the attack to pass more comfortable.
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