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It may start with a racing heart, then move to clammy hands, tightness in the chest area, looping thoughts, or shortness of breath. Panic attacks are frightening and debilitating, often coming at the worst and most surprising moments. Luckily, they are completely harmless, though incredibly uncomfortable and frightening.
Though many anxiety-disorder sufferers struggle with regular panic attacks, even the calmest person may feel panicky when placed in a stressful situation. With practice and determination, you can prevent these attacks before they occur, or minimize them once they happen. Here are 5 steps to take when facing an anxiety attack.
The first step is acceptance. If you’ve had a panic attack before, then you’ll know what symptoms to look out for. Don’t ignore the attack or try to fight it. This will send more cortisol through your body and increase the feelings of panic. Instead, say to yourself “I am anxious right now. I am having a panic attack. It’s ok, it’s just anxiety; it won’t hurt me.”
2. Slow Down Your Breathing
Many people prefer the 2-4-7 method that helps slow down breathing and get back to a more normal state. The 2-4-7 method involves breathing in to the count of two, holding in to the count of four, and exhaling to the count of 7. Repeat this process for at least a minute until you feel your body calming down. If your mind is racing, make a point to concentrate on your counting. This will help to minimize intrusive thoughts.
3. Get Back in Reality
Next, it’s time to replace the negative and emotional thoughts with realistic thoughts. It’s important not to try and lie to yourself to feel better but to use positive, yet realistic dialogue Talking out loud or journaling can help you gain back a sense of control and minimize that disassociated feeling. Remind yourself that nobody has died from a panic attack and the feelings will always pass. Remember to repeat Step 2 throughout this process!
4. Touch Physical Surroundings
Get further back into reality by employing your physical senses. List a few things you can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. Go from object to object and use your hand to feel it, concentrating on the reality of the object. Continue to repeat Step 2 throughout this process.
5. Review the Situation
Now that you’ve calmed down to an extent, it’s completely normal to feel tired and bewildered. Instead of worrying about those feelings, write down possible triggers for the attack. Did you drink caffeine? Are you stressed about the situation at home? Was your blood sugar low? Did you have minimal sleep last night? Have you been thinking about disturbing memories from the past? Do you feel guilty about something? Are you watching too much news? Next, ask yourself how often these panic attacks occur. Keep a journal to see if there’s a pattern in them, and speak with a therapist who can help you to pinpoint the root cause.
Do you struggle with panic attacks? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit your website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.