Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States, with over 40 million adults affected each year. There are many different anxiety disorders, each with its own causes and symptoms. Panic disorder is just one type of anxiety disorder that affects 6 million adults in the U.S.
Panic attacks are the main symptom of panic disorder and can significantly impact a person’s ability to function. Below, we’ll guide you through how to deal with panic attacks so you can overcome your fears and improve your quality of living.
Jump to Section:
- What Is a Panic Attack?
- How to Stop a Panic Attack
- Can Panic Attacks Be Prevented?
- When to See a Mental Health Professional
- Schedule an Appointment With My Psychiatrist
What Is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks can happen suddenly and trigger the fight-or-flight response, causing intense surges of fear, panic or anxiety lasting between five to 20 minutes. These attacks are very overwhelming, and a person can experience a vast array of physical and emotional symptoms.
Here’s what to expect during a panic attack:
- Difficulty breathing
- Heavy sweating
- Tingling or pins and needles
- Pounding heart
- Chest pains
- A feeling of detachment from reality
Some of these symptoms can feel life-threatening, particularly chest pains. People often mistake these feelings for a heart attack or stroke, and they’re driven to go to the emergency room to quell their fears. It can be challenging to distinguish between panic attack symptoms and a life-threatening condition in the moment.
Panic attacks can happen for no apparent reason, but there are a few conditions in which they are more likely, including:
- Panic disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use or substance use disorder
- Medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism
- Certain medications
- Conditions where psychosis is a symptom
A medical or mental health professional should address these common causes of anxiety attacks. Treating these conditions can help reduce your overall symptoms and frequency of attacks.
If someone you love has a panic attack, don’t tell them to calm down or say they’re overreacting. What they’re experiencing feels very real, even if no threat exists. If someone you care for has panic attacks, it’s essential to educate yourself to know what not to do when they’re experiencing an episode.
How to Stop a Panic Attack
When a person has a panic attack, adrenaline floods the body and creates an array of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. A panic attack can be a scary experience, but we can guide you through how to stop a panic attack and calm yourself or a loved one down. Some methods you can use to help yourself overcome panic attacks in the moment include:
- Deep breathing exercises: Hyperventilating, one of the symptoms of panic attacks, decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream and can make your panic symptoms feel worse. Practicing breathing exercises can help you increase your oxygen intake and bring about a sense of calm. Breathing exercises also help lower cortisol levels. Practice breathing in for four counts, holding the breath for a moment and releasing for another four counts. Repeat this technique until your breathing has returned to normal.
- Acknowledgment: Fighting the panic can make your symptoms more intense than they already are. Acknowledging that you’re having a panic attack, not something more serious, can help you realize that it will pass and that there’s nothing severely wrong. You might feel uncomfortable and afraid, but know that it’s just a stress reaction in the body and it will go away.
- Mindfulness: Many people use mindfulness techniques to ground themselves in the moment since panic attacks can make you feel detached from reality. Mindfulness can be practiced even when you’re not having a panic attack, making it easier to perform when you start to feel one happening. Just focus on what’s occurring in the moment and not mistakes of the past or fear of the future. Concentrate on physical sensations to help ground yourself in reality.
- Muscle relaxation techniques: When our body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered, we react by tensing our muscles to protect ourselves and prepare for a threat. Panic attacks are overwhelming, but they’re not life threatening. You can help reduce muscle tension and calm the body’s response by practicing relaxation techniques. A therapist can guide you through the best methods, but in general, you’ll focus on consciously releasing the tension from one muscle at a time.
- Mantra repetition: Mantras are another way to ground yourself in reality. They can help reassure you that you’re going to be okay, and they give you something else to focus on. You can use a common mantra such as, “This too shall pass” or something that helps you personally.
Can Panic Attacks Be Prevented?
Many people look to panic attack prevention methods to eliminate the problem, but there is no sure-fire way to prevent panic attacks or stop them for good. Some people experience panic attacks for a short period, while others have them for the rest of their lives. However, you can do some things to prevent their frequency and make them easier to manage when they do happen:
- Counseling: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective method of treating panic attacks and disorders, with long-lasting results. CBT aims to change how you view and react to stressful or fearful situations. Many therapists use CBT to treat panic disorders and various other anxiety disorders.
- Medication: Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Klonopin, are prescribed to treat panic attacks. They help calm the nervous system and prevent panic attacks from getting worse or stop an episode from happening altogether. These medications are controlled substances and have the potential to be addicting, so doctors will typically only prescribe these if you have a panic disorder diagnosis. Your doctor might also prescribe antidepressants to reduce the frequency of panic attacks in the long term.
- Exercise: Physical activity keeps the body healthy and boosts your mood, which can help prevent stress-related panic attacks. If you don’t currently exercise, talk with your doctor first before starting. Starting aerobic exercises can temporarily increase anxiety in people with anxiety or panic disorders. However, anxiety symptoms can improve once your body adjusts to physical activity.
- Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle choices can contribute to increased anxiety, so it’s essential to make changes if you want to reduce the frequency of your panic attacks. Quit smoking, reduce your alcohol or caffeine intake, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and drink plenty of water. Keeping your body in peak physical condition will help prevent panic attacks.
When to See a Mental Health Professional
If panic attacks are starting to affect your life adversely, it’s time to see a mental health professional. If you’re living with the fear of experiencing another panic attack and it’s preventing you from going outside and spending time with loved ones, seeking professional treatment can help you overcome these concerns.
Some people are affected by panic attacks in other ways. They may start performing poorly at school or work or may begin seeing significant changes to their health and mental well-being. Panic attacks can even impact your sleep, making you more irritable and likely to take out your frustrations on loved ones.
If your panic attacks make you feel unsafe or impact your quality of life, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you understand what’s happening and offer panic attack treatment methods to help you tackle the problem head-on.
Schedule an Appointment With My Psychiatrist
Panic and anxiety can be overwhelming for the person experiencing these emotions. The fear feels very real in the moment, and you may even feel like you lack control. At My Psychiatrist, we can help treat anxiety disorders and reduce your fears. Our board-certified psychiatrists can diagnose your anxiety disorder and offer treatment to improve your quality of life.
If you’re ready to take back control of your life, browse through our list of providers and book an appointment today!