A panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear or anxiety. Symptoms include a racing heart, sweating, and difficulty breathing. People who experience panic attacks may feel that they are losing control or even dying. Conditions such as stress and anxiety can lead to panic attacks.
Panic attacks originate in the amygdala, which is also known as the fear center of the brain. When a panic attack occurs, the sudden increase in adrenaline, the hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response, causes the sensation of immediate danger.
Triggers for panic attacks vary, but often there is no apparent cause. Panic attacks do not have a clear pattern, and it is hard to predict when they may occur. Some people may experience panic attacks multiple times a month, while others may have them once, and never again.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2.7% of Americans had panic attacks in the past year. Women are more likely to experience panic attacks than men. It is estimated that about 4.7% of adults in the U.S. may have panic attacks at some point in their lives.
Knowing how to manage panic attacks is an important skill to have to minimize symptoms and train the brain to prevent them. At awarenow, we do not believe in the use of drugs to control anxiety and panic disorder. Here are some alternative strategies to manage a panic attack:
- Take deep breaths
Focusing on taking deep breaths is the first step to controlling a panic attack. When you slow down and breathe, you are less likely to experience hyperventilation, a condition in which you start to breathe fast. Feel the air filling your chest and belly as you inhale, and feel the air coming out when you exhale. As you repeat this pattern, count. Make sure that your inhales last as much as your exhales. For example, count to four as you inhale, hold for a second and exhale counting to four. This rhythm will help your brain and body relax.
- Use muscle relaxation
This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to reduce the stress that can cause panic attacks. This strategy works in combination with the breath. Breathing is an essential tool that should never be neglected. You can start with your feet and slowly progress until you reach the forehead. Tighten the muscle you are focusing on while you inhale, hold for a few seconds, and release the tension while exhaling. Move on to next muscle group, and remember to focus on one at a time.
While you take deep breaths and relax your muscles, try to picture yourself in a different setting, maybe a sunny beach in the Caribbean, or a cabin up in the mountains. Choose a place that can evoke feelings of wellbeing and peace — not a big bustling metropolis. When you found your ideal place, picture yourself there, and think about as many details as possible, so your brain stays on the scene. Who’s with you? What do you see around you?
- Practice mindfulness
It is important to accept your thoughts as they come — do not ignore them, but let them pass without engaging with them — like if they were clouds passing in the sky. Repeat to yourself that what you are experiencing is temporary, and you are ok. Mindfulness helps you stay grounded to reality, and prevents you from blowing issues out of proportion. Focus on the sensations that keep you grounded to reality, like the feeling of your feet touching the Earth.
Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and it should be incorporated into your daily routine. Yoga is ideal because it combines physical activity with breathing techniques. Exercise keeps your body strong and healthy, and it helps with stress management. When you exercise, your body produces natural chemicals called endorphins that contribute to creating a feeling of well-being. Exercise may help reduce the risk of a panic attack.
- Acupuncture & Aromatherapy
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points in the body to correct energy imbalances. Some studies suggest that acupuncture can help reduce stress and anxiety disorders. Aromatherapy is also considered an alternative method to manage panic attacks. Lavender, for example, is used as a stress reliever because it can help your body relax. Some studies found that lavender may have a calming effect. You can buy a diffuser or you can take a bath with Epsom salts, which relax the muscles, and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil.
These are just some of the most popular methods used to manage panic attacks. At awarenow, we work with vetted professionals who are specialized in the strategies mentioned above and more. They know all the right tools to help you manage panic attacks and prevent their symptoms.
Check out our heart-centered guide Gigi Azmy, she focuses on helping with panic attacks using mindfulness-based trauma release approaches and her clients report results after even a few sessions.