How to Master your Panic Attacks
1 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a panic attack each year and they usually begin between the ages of 15 and 25. About a third of people have one in their lifetime. Although more prevalent in women, men can often -times ignore the need to reach out for help or talk about the symptoms with someone.
Your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, your chest tightens, and you feel like you are dying or have a sense of impending doom. You’re having a panic attack. This is an intense wave of fear, leaving you terrified and overwhelmed, even though you’re not in any danger. What makes panic attacks more frightening is they often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger.
When a panic attack comes on for many the initial reaction is to fear the symptoms and try to make them go away. Resisting, tensing or fighting your panic can many times make it worse. You don’t have to be a passive victim and can instead take these steps to help manage you panic.
1. KEEP A panic attack RECORD. This is simply logging what happened before your attack. Ask questions such as what kind of mood where you in for most of the day? Where there any significant stressors/losses in your life? Were you thinking about any negative thoughts just before you panicked?
2. LEAN INTO the fear. Fighting the panic will make it last longer. Attempting to stop the panic is taking on the thoughts that you cannot handle the scenario and most likely create more panic for yourself. Say things like “This is just another panic attack. I’ve done this before and this will not last.”
3. UNDERSTAND what is happening. Your amygdala is that part in your brain that is responsible for the flight or fight response. It is very good at telling you to avoid danger and do something. It is part of the process that releases a flood of stress hormones throughout your body when it is triggered by a perceived threat. To short circuit this signal of false alarm you must do the opposite and do nothing. In time you are no longer reinforcing the amygdala’s messages that you are in danger and retraining the brain that there is no real threat present.
4. Remember panic attacks are TIME LIMITED. If you do not resist, and float with what your body is doing the adrenaline released throughout your body will be reabsorbed within 5 minutes.
5. RIDE THE WAVE. As you are allowing time to pass try using a coping statement when you sense panic starting. “This feeling is not good but I can ride this out like I have before.” “Nothing harmful is going to happen to me.”
Remember the more we focus on something the more we magnify it.
If you find that you need a more individualized plan to help master your panic please reach out. We can talk further about how counseling can help you take back control and live your life to the fullest.