We often hear the expression, ‘Don’t panic’ in various instances. We listen to it during conversations, on television and in movies. When we panic, we experience a strong feeling of fear or anxiety in reaction to a real threat. We are more prone to lose our composure and respond to potentially dangerous or even life-threatening circumstances in a frantic or unreasonable way.
Our capacity for clear, logical reasoning is impaired by fear. The body releases adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones that indicate harm even before we realise what is happening. These hormones produce unpleasant physical feelings such as shaking, short breathing, sweating, heart palpitations and other physical reactions.
Most of us will have a panic attack at some point in our lives in response to a real threat or intense stress. However, panic disorder may be present when panic attacks happen or recur without cause, in the absence of danger or significant stress, or when the dread of having another attack is so intense that we alter the behaviour by avoiding particular situations or persons.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a short period of extreme anxiety that results in fearful physical symptoms.
These symptoms can include an accelerated heartbeat, difficulty breathing, nausea, shaking and muscle tension. Panic attacks are common, unplanned and generally unrelated to any danger from the outside world.
A panic attack can last from a few minutes to 30 minutes. The attack’s physical and psychological consequences can persist for a few hours.
Why does a person get a panic attack?
Panic disorder can run in families in some cases. Scientists have discovered that several brain regions and biological functions may be essential to understand fear and anxiety.
According to some studies, panic episodes are similar to false alarms, wherein our body’s normal survival instincts are activated either too frequently, excessively intensely or a mix of the two. For instance, a person with panic disorder may have a hammering in their chest and think they have a heart attack. As a result, a vicious cycle may develop, which is the main symptom of panic disorder—panic attacks that appear out of nowhere.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Among the symptoms of a panic attack are,
- Hot flashes
- Dry mouth
- Stiff muscles
- Illogical thoughts
- Elevated heart rate
- Nausea, abdominal pain
- Sweating, trembling or shaking
- A tightening sensation in the chest
- Breathlessness and other breathing problems.
- Increased awareness of risk and physical signs.
- A strong sense of danger, anxiety or fear.
- Fear of death, loss of control or becoming crazy.
- Chills and tingling, especially in the hands and arms.
10 Ways to deal with panic attacks
Recognise the triggers
Getting more self-awareness and information about one’s own mental health is always beneficial. The ability to talk themselves through an attack will increase when an individual becomes more familiar with the triggers and how their anxiety manifests.
A breathing exercise can help one feel better while rapidly breathing during a panic attack.
- Some people find it helpful to count steadily from 1 to 5 on each inhalation and exhalation.
- Breathe in through the nose as slowly, deeply and gently as possible, and breathe out through the mouth the same way.
- Focus on breathing while closing your eyes.
- In a few minutes, the person begins to feel better.
The grounding technique involves counting five things a person can see, four things they can touch, three things they hear, two things they smell and one thing to taste.
For the grounding technique—Concentrate on the surroundings, including their appearance, smell and texture.
While feeling to have lost control of the environment or the mind, this may be helpful.
It is advisable to use this diversion when a person suddenly feels the heart racing or encounters other physical signals of a panic attack. Count by threes starting at 100.
The process of counting at irregular intervals helps to concentrate and silences the nervous thoughts that are attempting to infiltrate our minds. A person starts to feel calmer when they can keep their thoughts under control and focus on something else.
Think of a safe place.
Finding peaceful and calm places is helpful when one finds that they frequently experience panic episodes in crowded areas. This might be a restroom, a dressing area or a shopping location. Sometimes, simply having a plan eases tension to the point where an individual is less likely to experience a panic attack.
Rely on a friend
Have somebody to call to calm down during panic attacks. A person might be able to escape the fear with just a quick text or phone call.
Ride it out, or let it happen.
Ride the wave and reassure that nothing is amiss and the situation will pass quickly.
Thinking positively actually has an optimal effect. Consider moments in the past while overcoming a stressful circumstance or phase and think positively.
Visualise happy space
Picturise yourself in a stressful situation and think of calm places. While many individuals attempt to visualise happy places like the beach or a meadow with a stream, recalling a special memory can also be helpful.
From beginning to end, mentally replay the entire incident while picturing every aspect, such as noises, scents, colours and sensations. The reason this works is that the brain is diverted.
Use a muscle relaxation technique.
Anxiety and stress can be reduced by practising muscle relaxation techniques. Focus on contracting certain muscle groups with each inhalation and releasing others with each exhalation to achieve it.
Ways to prevent panic attacks
Learning ways to prevent panic attacks from occurring in the first place is equally as significant as these coping mechanisms.
- Eat well
Maintain a nutritious diet rich in fresh and vitamin-rich foods. Avoid processed foods, foods with a lot of sugar and unhealthy fats.
- Focus on physical well-being.
Our physical health has an impact on our ability to handle stress. Thus, exercising frequently can be helpful in stress management.
- Sleep well
It helps to have good sleeping habits. Make sleep a priority and attempt to maintain a regular sleeping routine.
- Skip the caffeine
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, when consumed in excess, can cause anxiety and increase overall stress. Consume coffee and other caffeinated beverages moderately.
- Limit or avoid alcohol
Moderate drinking is usually acceptable. However, when a person drinks excessively or uses alcohol as a coping mechanism, it usually elevates stress levels.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a time-limited approach that uses cognitive and behavioural techniques to bring about change. Treatment goals and the estimated number of sessions needed to attain them vary with individuals.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on one’s own thoughts, which affect the mood and behaviour rather than other external factors (like other people, situations or events).
According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, the advantage of cognitive therapy is that it allows us to alter our thoughts to feel and act better even while circumstances remain unchanged.
To prevent or treat panic attacks, CBT aims to identify the thinking and behaviour patterns that are responsible.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
To assist people in learning new skills and strategies—such as mindfulness and distress tolerance—to manage their anxiety and panic. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive therapy, emphasises individual psychotherapy and group skills training.
The American Psychological Association states that DBT therapists work to strike a balance between validation and change by emphasising acceptance of the client’s identity and the difficulties they are facing while also teaching the client new techniques for better emotion regulation, interpersonal communication and problem-solving without adopting impulsive behaviour.
The treatment involves exposing the patient to the sensations they experience during a panic attack in a secure and controlled environment. It is the same way as introducing a person who has a phobia of trains, dogs or snakes to the things that terrify them.
A person with panic disorder frequently has increased sensitivity to symptoms like a racing heart, an upset stomach or feeling dizzy.
To induce panic symptoms during exposure treatment, the therapist may urge us to imitate actions such as performing jumping jacks or holding our breath. The theory is that by repeatedly experiencing situations that could set off a panic attack, such situations will gradually lose their potency.
Panic disorder symptoms can be controlled or reduced with medication. It works best when paired with other therapies, such as exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Antidepressants are among the drugs that help treat panic disorder and panic attacks. However, it usually takes a few weeks for them to start working. Benzodiazepines like Lorazepam and Alprazolam start working immediately. They should only be used for a short span because they are addictive.
Consulting a healthcare professional is necessary before taking any medication. Using prescription medications is always best for the right treatment.
A panic attack is a fear response to a situation. These feelings exaggerate the body’s typical reaction to danger, tension or excitement. Everybody has different moments when they have panic attacks.
Most panic attacks last five to twenty minutes. They may appear suddenly. The symptoms may become worse within 10 minutes.
Remember to breathe deeply, count backwards, think of a happy place and use grounding techniques to deal with a panic attack. This helps one have control.
What’s the 54321 methods?
The five senses grounding technique, also known as the 54321 methods or the 54321-anxiety trick, is a strategy that reduces the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. The 54321 technique involves using each of the senses through observation as a helpful way to reduce anxiety.
What is the fastest way to stop a panic attack?
One easy way to stop a panic attack is,
1. Inhale through the nose as gently, deeply, and slowly as you can.
2. Exhale through the mouth slowly, deeply, and gently.
3. On each inhale and exhale, some people find it useful to count slowly from 1 to 5.
4. Focus on breathing while closing your eyes.
How do I train my brain to stop panic attacks?
One of the most effective methods for preventing anxiety and panic episodes is neurofeedback, along with other types of biofeedback.
How long do panic attacks last?
Most panic attacks last five to twenty minutes. Some have reportedly lasted as long as an hour. The condition’s severity will determine the number of attacks a person has.