Surviving a panic attack

Many people suffer from panic attacks. They are usually brought on by our fight-or-flight response,…
Surviving a panic attack
Foto: Morguefile

Many people suffer from panic attacks. They are usually brought on by our fight-or-flight response, which alerts us to danger. Sometimes, however, emotional turmoil, anxiety, and severe stress can bring them on. They are scary and frightening while they are happening, and sufferers may feel like they are having a heart attack. Learning to stay calm can help you beat the panic.

Panic make our hearts beat faster: that’s why it can feel like you are having a heart attack. Adrenalin courses through our bodies, and everything gears up to a danger that we think we perceive. Often the danger isn’t really there; we just convince ourselves that it is and become increasingly anxious. When you feel the onset of a panic attack, first repeat to yourself the FEAR mnemonic: False Expectations Appearing Real. This is a cognitive behavioral technique to remind ourselves that the danger we think we are in isn’t necessarily real. Believe that you are OK and will get through this, and start to calm your response.

You can control an attack with your breathing. Adrenalin makes the heart beat faster, and our breathing becomes shallower. We take short, sharp breaths of air that just increase the tension in our bodies. To calm down, you need to breathe deeply, really filling your lungs. Inhale and exhale slowly. The act of taking in more oxygen will slow your heart rate and reduce the feeling of having a panic attack. You can also inhale essential oils specifically for calming. Lavender is good, as is chamomile. The scents have a soothing effect, which can take the edge off the attack.

This may be difficult when you’re having an attack, but part of suffering from panic is being hypersensitive to how your body is feeling. Sufferers of panic attacks can take the slightest change in heart rate–that pins-and-needles feeling and a shortness of breath–as signs that an attack is on its way. You need to distract yourself. You may be feeling off for any amount of reasons. Every strange sensation will not result in a panic attack. If you feel like one is starting, distract yourself. Don’t mull on it and wait for it to happen. Read a book, watch TV, call a friend: do something that will keep your attention focused on something other than your body.

Nobody likes panic attacks. They make us feel out of control, and they can physically leave us tired and scared. Distract yourself when you feel one coming on, use the FEAR saying, and control your breathing. With these tools, you can beat your attacks.