If you are one of the more than 2.4 millions of Americans that experience panic attacks, you know just how scary they can be. Nothing becomes more important to the sufferer than to get relief as quickly as possible. Ideally, you want to try to use healthy coping skills before your anxiety escalates all the way to panic. But, if you find you are “already there,” these are the two things you can do to make the biggest difference.
1. BREATHE. So, obviously, you are going to continue to breathe throughout the attack, whether you take notice of it or not. What matters here is HOW you breathe. During a panic attack, something has tricked your mind into believing that your person is in immediate and life-threatening danger. So your body reacts to the messages your brain is sending to prepare you for survival mode. One of your body’s responses is to change your respiration. You move into rapid, and shallow breathing. This is good when in a true survival situation, as other processes in your body are changing, as well, towards the purpose of fighting or fleeing. However, this rapid and shallow breathing is NOT helpful if you aren’t in an actual emergency situation. One of the fastest and most effective ways to communicate to your brain and body that there is no need to panic, is for you to force yourself to take deeper and longer breaths. And not just a couple, either. I encourage my clients to repeat a particular breath pattern for 15 minutes to stop their panic attacks. Your body WILL stop panicking as your lungs take in the increased amount of oxygen, and that oxygen travels through your blood stream to your brain–as long as you don’t quit after a few breaths.
2. Mind (and Correct) Your Self-talk. Your internal monologue doesn’t stop just because you are in an emergency! In fact, the other body processes that occur involuntarily during a threat to your survival help you to hone-in on your thought process in order to improve the odds that you’ll figure out how to survive. But again, when panic is produced by false threats, the thoughts you are likely having are distorted. They may be in the way of shouting at you to flee, to telling you that you are about to die, or that something terrible is happening. The second thing to do in this situation is to pay attention to your self-talk. Speak Calming and soothing things to yourself. Point out that you are NOT in danger, that everything is fine. Say these things in a compassionate voice or tone because being harsh or critical with yourself will not induce positive feelings. Remind yourself to breathe slowly, and be your own cheerleader as your breathing shifts for the positive. Remind yourself that panic attacks are a nuisance but not a catastrophe. Be kind and patient with yourself.
Doing these two things will make a noticeable difference in The length and severity of the attacks, as well as how you feel afterwards. For more tips and strategies for managing your panic disorder or PTSD, please follow the links to contact me. I can help you learn to feel empowered and more in-control of these burdens.