You don’t have to be a recovering addict to be dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. In fact, they are quite common, so I’m sharing 5 tips on how to deal with panic attacks.
What Is A Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are a sudden episode of intense fear, causing severe physical symptoms even when there is no real threat or danger.
I suffer from panic attacks myself, and I feel like I’m losing control of myself and like I can’t breathe. Before I realized what I was experiencing, I actually thought I was having a heart attack. My chest hurts, my pulse races, I feel sweaty and very agitated. All while my mind is spinning and I can’t even put my finger on the thoughts that are causing the attack.
It’s a very scary feeling, and those are all common symptoms of panic attacks.
How Common Are Panic Attacks?
According to this article from The Cleveland Clinic,
“Panic attacks are common. Every year, up to 11% of people in the United States experience a panic attack.
Approximately 2% to 3% of people in the U.S. have panic disorder. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) are two times more likely to have panic disorder than people assigned male at birth (AMAB).”
As common as they are, it makes you wonder what causes panic attacks.
Causes and Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Unfortunately it’s really not known what causes panic attacks. Luckily, a panic attack is not life-threatening, although it may feel that way when you’re in the midst of one.
They usually come on suddenly and with no warning.
People suffering from panic disorder often find themselves avoiding situations for fear of triggering another panic attack.
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For instance, I once had a panic attack sitting in the backseat of a two-door car. I now refuse to sit in the backseat of a car unless it has doors, and even then I feel on edge. I can’t sit in between two people, I must be next to the door, all the while with the window down, just to feel a bit secure.
5 Tips For How To Deal With Panic Attacks
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with panic attacks (sudden rushes of physical symptoms and thoughts dealing with anxiety), here are 5 Tips from The Peace Well in Cincinnati, Ohio.
1. Ground yourself.
No, this doesn’t mean go sit in your room like your parents used to say. Grounding is a part of mindfulness and it means being very aware of your body and your surroundings.
Use the 5 senses technique – Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This helps take your mind off your panic and communicates to your brain that you are safe.
2. Learn about panic attacks.
When panic attacks first show up in your life, it’s scary and unpredictable. But the more you learn about them, the more you realize that this is your body’s normal way of dealing with threats. Consider a panic attack like a false alarm – your brain thinks that you are unsafe but really you are okay. When you start to see how your body and brain work together, it demystifies panic attacks and makes them less scary.
3. Reframe your thoughts.
This is where therapy really comes in handy, but it’s important to change the story from fear to acceptance.
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Try treating your panic attacks like an annoying friend who comes around too much to check on you. They may have good intentions but you aren’t so appreciative of the results. Set the boundary, saying that you’d rather deal with the situation in a way that doesn’t involve panic.
This mindset makes panic attacks seem more annoying than scary.
4. Face your fears.
Eventually, you have to go do the things that you are avoiding, because the avoidance perpetuates the fear cycle.
Once you are getting a hang of the first 3 steps, take a friend and start to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Don’t do anything dangerous, but challenge yourself. Start small and build up. You’ll surprise yourself at how resilient you are and you’ll build positive momentum.
5. Stay hopeful.
Overcoming panic attacks can take time, especially when you’ve been dealing with them for a while.
Our brains get used to patterns of thinking and it takes intentional work to change those patterns. But it is possible, so don’t lose hope! You can do this!