Between mid-March and mid-May, Google searches relating to panic and anxiety attacks surged to an all-time high: up to 52 percent. Many would agree that this year has been one of the most challenging in recent years.
Panic attacks are sudden, intense surges of fear, panic, or anxiety. They are overwhelming, and they have physical as well as emotional symptoms. Panic attacks are generally brief, lasting less than 10 minutes, although some of the symptoms may persist for a longer time.
Many people with panic attacks may have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, tremble, and feel their hearts pounding.
Some people will also experience chest pain and a feeling of detachment from reality or themselves during a panic attack, so they think they are having a heart attack. Others have reported feeling like they are having a stroke. What differentiates panic attacks from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Panic attacks typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside.
Symptoms of panic attacks:
One can experience any of the following symptoms during a panic attack: palpitations, or accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath or smothering, feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint, chills or heat sensations, paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations), derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (being detached from oneself), fear of losing control or “going crazy”, fear of dying.
What To Do
Hyperventilating is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, deep breathing can reduce symptoms of panic during an attack.
If you’re able to control your breathing, you’re less likely to experience the hyperventilating that can make other symptoms — and the panic attack itself — worse. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four:
No, you’re not dying, you’re having a panic attack
You need to recognise that what you are having is a panic attack and not a heart attack or something worse. With this in mind, you can allay your fear.
Take away the fear that you may be dying or that impending doom is looming, both symptoms of panic attacks. This can allow you to focus on other techniques to reduce your symptoms.
Close your eyes
Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you are in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack.
To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.
Mindfulness can help ground you in the reality of what is around you. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can combat your panic attack as it is approaching or actually happening.
Focus on the physical sensations you are familiar with, like digging your feet into the ground or feeling the texture of your jeans on your hands. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something objective to focus on.
Find a focus object
Some people find it helpful to find a single object to focus all of their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible.
For example, you may notice how the hand on the clock jerks when it ticks, and that it is slightly lopsided. Describe the patterns, colour, shapes, and size of the object to yourself. Focus all of your energy on this object, and your panic symptoms may subside.
Repeat a mantra internally
Repeating a mantra internally can be relaxing and reassuring, and it can give you something to grasp onto during a panic attack.
Whether it is simply “This too shall pass,” or a mantra that speaks to you personally, repeat it in a loop in your head until you feel the panic attack start to subside.
Use muscle relaxation techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when you have practised them beforehand.