Many times we hear someone talk about having a panic attack but very few of us actually know what that means. A panic attack can often feel like a heart attack, marked by various debilitating physical symptoms such as altered heart rate, tightness in the chest, dizziness and shortness of breath. It’s often accompanied by a loss of control and a sense of unreality. If you’ve experienced these, know that you are not alone. And while managing the underlying reasons for these attacks can be a long-term process, here are a few things you can do for instant relief.
1. Recognise That You’re Having A Panic Attack
If you can identify that you’re having a panic attack, try to actively stay with it rather than worrying about ending the episode – which can cause further panic. This will help you feel grounded and in sync with your reality at the time. Recognise that it is an episode that will end, even though it might not seem that way.
2. Regulate Your Breathing
Mostly people experience shortness of breath during a panic attack. Try to establish a slow and steady breathing pattern in the moment that might help you manage the panic attack. Slowly breathe in through your nose, hold your breath for three seconds and softly exhale through your mouth.
3. Limit External Stimuli
If you find that loud noises or bright lights are intensifying your panic attack, physically remove yourself from such a place as it can help ease your anxiety in the moment. Often people prefer finding a quieter spot where they can close their eyes and are able to use other coping mechanisms.
4. Repeat A Mantra
A mantra is a word, sound or phrase that can be repeated to aid concentration. It can be anything you find yourself resonating with and doesn’t have to be complicated, such as simply saying, “It’s okay.” If you find yourself to be spiritual, a recitation of a spiritual phrase can be helpful as well.
5. Be Mindful
Since panic attacks often alter your sense of reality, being mindful can help you feel in control. Start with the basics: can you sense two distinct smells around you? How many rainbow colours do you see around you? Can you identify three distinct textures around you? Such mindfulness exercises can help you re-ground yourself.
6. Think About Your Happy Place
Can you recall a moment where you felt true happiness? Imagining yourself in a safe space, relaxed and calm can help you become calm in the moment too. If it’s hard for you to tap into a memory, imagine what you would like your happy place to be. Try to imagine those details and surround yourself in them.
7. Focus On A Single Object
Focusing on a single object allows the other stimuli to seem less intense, which can include a trigger to the panic attack. Try to focus on all the details of the object so that your focus shifts away from the panic attack. Think about the shape, colour, how it feels on your hand and perhaps who even made the object!
8. Know That It’s Okay To Ask For Help
If you feel that after trying several self-calming activities and coping mechanisms, your panic attack seems to be intensifying, don’t be hesitant to ask for help. Let someone know what kind of support you are looking for, because you are not alone!
Recurrent panic attacks can be indicative of a panic disorder, depression and/or an anxiety disorder. Please reach out to a professional healthcare practitioner or a therapist if you experience frequent panic attacks.