Coping with Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are extremely frightening to experience. They are also unpredictable and can seem to happen anywhere and completely out of the blue. They can really disrupt your life as they can prevent you from participating in normal, everyday activities. I find that many of my clients learn to associate particular places with panic attacks and then feel afraid to put themselves in that place or situation in case another attack occurs. This can then spread to any similar places or situations that just might trigger panic. Before they know it, their world has become much smaller and they feel afraid to leave the house. In many cases, there is a lot of social anxiety and embarrassment associated with the fear.
The symptoms of a panic attack can feel extremely serious and many people describe feeling that they are having a heart attack. It is common to fear that you are dying during this intense feeling of anxiety. You might experience symptoms such as...
Rapid and pounding heart rate
Feeling particularly hot or cold
A choking sensation
Shortness of breath
Nausea or upset stomach
Fear of losing control, going crazy, fainting, vomiting or dying
Of course, it is important to rule out any physical cause for these symptoms, but very often they are caused by anxiety.
If panic attacks occur regularly, stop you doing things and don't seem to be triggered by anything in particular, you may be developing panic disorder.
So, how can you learn to overcome panic attacks?
My Top 6 Tips
1. Work With Your Body
The first thing to do is to change the way you view the symptoms. A panic "attack" is not an attack at all, really, so it's not a great name for this reaction. It is simply your body going into its natural fight or flight response. The problem is, it's a bit like that annoying fire alarm that screams into action whenever you burn the toast. Your body naturally wants to protect you and it's actually an amazing machine. Every physical reaction has an important role to play and it's doing it to prepare your body to run away or fight, even though there is no physical danger present. For more information on the physical effects of anxiety, please take a look at this blog post.
So, just sit quietly for a moment and understand that you are perfectly safe and that your body is simply doing what it was designed to do. Breathe into the symptoms and acknowledge them without fighting against them or trying to control them. That fire alarm may be annoying when it keeps going off for no reason, but you wouldn't want to remove it completely.
2. Focus on What's Happening Outside
Look around you and name three things you can see, three things you can hear and three things you can touch. You can even extend this and have something calming to smell and something good to taste. It may help to have some things with you to help to distract you from the physical sensations going in inside your body. Have a favourite photo on your phone, some calming music to listen to, a sweet or mint to taste, a calming smell such as lavender oil or perfume and something comforting to touch. This will all help to connect you to the outside world again while your body naturally returns to its normal state.
3. Relax Your Body
Start from your feet and work up through your body and notice where you're holding tension. Let go and release those tense muscles. Practising this regularly will help when you need to do it quickly and easily. Your mind and body are always communicating and working together. As you consciously breathe slowly and relax your muscles, your mind will automatically calm down and tell that fight or flight response to stand down, switching off that alarm system.
4. Positive Visualisation
Sit and close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere you feel very relaxed and comfortable. Again, this is something that you can practice regularly so it's easier to do when you really need it. You might imagine feeling calm and relaxed on a beautiful sandy beach or in a lush green meadow. You might just imagine yourself in a favourite room at home if that's where you feel safest.
5. Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine and Cigarettes
These stimulants can all trigger anxiety so are best avoided if you are prone to panic attacks. If you need help, please get in touch as hypnotherapy is a great way to kick any of those unwanted habits.
6. Sleep Well
Getting enough restful sleep will certainly help. To read more about this, please take a look at this blog post.
If you'd like some help to overcome anxiety or panic attacks, please book your free initial consultation here.