When you feel like you can’t breathe or like something is tightening around your chest, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a heart attack.
This panic attack will most likely scare the living daylights out of you and leave you thinking, “What if I’m actually having a heart attack?”. Or, it could be due to other reasons, like severe anxiety.
Why do panic attacks happen?
A panic attack occurs when your brain signals to your body that you’re in danger, even though there’s no actual danger present. Because of this miscommunication between the brain and body, your body responds by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to help protect itself from what it thinks is harmful.
It makes sense that your body reacts this way when you’re in danger. However, when the threat is only felt inside your mind, these chemicals are released for no reason, which can make it difficult to deal with a panic attack.
Too many of these attacks over time will cause your body’s natural defenses against stress hormones to become weakened. In turn, your body can’t fight stress as effectively, leading to anxiety and panic attacks.
What should you do?
Panic attacks are scary because it feels like you’re dying. The first thing that’s recommended is always to seek medical attention if the symptoms don’t improve, especially if they come on after a traumatic event or with a fever.
If the symptoms are mild, there are some things you can do to help yourself feel better.
Take slow, deep breaths. By doing this, you’ll decrease your heart rate and relax your body before you have a full-blown panic attack. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth because it will also help control your breathing while also adding more oxygen to your body.
Stay busy. When you’re feeling a panic attack coming on, find something that will distract you from what’s causing your stress; it can be anything, like cleaning or watching TV. The point is to stop worrying and start doing something else instead of focusing on the negative feelings.
Remember: Panic attacks can be scary, but they’re a good thing! They show that your body is working the way it should, by defending itself from stress. As long as you do things to help decrease their severity and frequency, panic attacks aren’t something you have to worry about.
How to Stop a Panic Attack?
If you are suffering from panic attacks it can be terrifying and interfere with your everyday life.
Here is a list of ways to stop the attack:
- Breathe deep, slow breaths that come from the diaphragm instead of shallow ‘chest breathing. This forces oxygen into your lungs and calms you down.
- Acknowledge your feelings and accept that you are having a panic attack. Don’t resist the feelings just let them happen and don’t think about how you can stop them because they will not go away until you do.
- Think of your anxiety in terms of waves, when one wave comes another must follow, but they will not be as intense the next time and you can ride them out.
- Try to stay busy and keep your mind occupied, this reduces the likelihood of another attack happening because your mind is distracted.
- If possible exercise, even light exercising such as yoga or running releases endorphins which will reduce stress and release happy hormones.
- Don’t think that the attack will last forever and that you will be stuck in it for hours or days, this makes anxiety worse and can prolong your panic attack.
- When the thoughts begin to creep into your head acknowledge them and let them pass, don’t dwell on them because fear is worse than actuality.
- Try to relax, close your eyes and start to focus on things around you such as the sounds of birds or music to take your mind off what is happening.
- Breathe in some essential oil/smell for calming e.g lavender which has a sedative effect that will help you to sleep.
- You can do this, you are strong and brave enough not to let the panic win!
- Acceptance is key in helping someone get through panic attacks – I’m not good at dealing with stress in my life, but it’s true that the more you fight the feelings/thoughts during a panic attack, the worse it is.