How to manage panic attacks
Panic attacks are really scary. Symptoms range from difficulty breathing or catching your breath, to numbness in limbs and areas of your face. Panic attacks can come in waves of overwhelming feelings of anxiety which take over your whole body, or they can affect you less visibly with your heart beating fast and the feeling of 'butterflies' in your stomach. Whichever symptom(s) you experience, it can feel really frightening and sometimes debilitating.
Panic or anxiety attacks may feel like they come out of the blue or you may be able to sense one coming on. Everyone experiences them a little differently.
Try to actively feel the earth beneath you and acknowledge your meeting of it.
Tips to manage panic attacks
Here are the tips I offer my clients for coping with panic attacks (and feelings of anxiety in general).
1. Remember that you cannot come to any harm
Despite how terrifying they feel, panic attacks can't harm you; your mind is making you feel like there is danger/something bad happening or about to happen but in reality, your body will continue to do its job and you certainly will continue to be able to breathe (even if it feels like you're struggling to).
If you are with someone experiencing a panic attack, this is helpful to remind them of in a calm, gentle and reassuring way.
2. Count your breaths
Simple, but often very effective and you can do this literally anywhere. Count your breaths and aim for 'normal' (i.e. not too deep and not too shallow) breaths alongside the counting. If you are with someone experiencing a panic attack - count along with them.
3. If possible and safe - get on the floor
Whether this is lying or sitting down, it can really help to feel the ground under you. This grounding technique offers us a reminder that we are safe. Try to actively feel the earth beneath you and acknowledge your meeting of it.
4. Holding a grounding object
This can be really helpful and act as a distraction because it's something physical for us to explore and feel, alongside being grounding because you are controlling (holding) it.
This helps your mind remember that you're safe and in control of your body. I always recommend that my clients who experience regular anxiety or panic attacks carry a small object in their pocket that they can feel at any time.
Feel the object between your fingers and play with it in your hands. I like crystals and stones but this can be anything; something that gives you comfort. Similarly, if you are with someone (that you know and trust) - hold their hands. Feeling the security of another person you feel comfortable with can really help.
5. Count colours or objects
Another useful grounding technique that you can use anywhere, I suggest to my clients to walk around the room picking up and naming objects i.e. 'television remote', 'vase' - you can even add in the colours 'black television remote', 'blue vase'.
If you can't walk around then just name them from where you are. It's hard to continue feeling anxious when you're doing a mindful activity like this because it really brings your mind back to the present.
Whether it be a regular thing you do, or just each time you have a panic attack, journaling is a good way of identifying triggers. Try to reflect on how you were feeling before the panic attack, what you were thinking about or where you were.
Quite often with anxiety, we don't realise something is making us anxious because we are not checking with ourselves enough.
7. Explore what's fuelling the anxiety
It's important with panic attacks and general anxiety to explore what is going on behind the anxiety. Anxiety is an umbrella term for a whole range of feelings and often when we tune into it we realise it's fear or worry about something. It's important not to ignore that. Therapy is a place where you can explore this.
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