Shuree Waggoner LMHC
Coping with Panic Attacks: Strategies to Share
Every year, 11 percent of Americans suffer from panic attacks. Depending on the severity of the condition, as many as 3 percent of this group go on to develop panic disorder, which occurs when an individual begins to constantly worry about coping with panic attacks and experiencing additional panic attacks and losing control of their actions as a result.
WHAT IS A PANIC ATTACK?
A panic attack is a sudden and extreme feeling of intense stress, fear, and discomfort that causes those who experience them to lose control. Common symptoms of panic attacks include shortness of breath, trembling, racing thoughts, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, tension, and the general feeling of being detached from your own body.
Generally speaking, panic attack episodes are short, lasting between five and 30 minutes. While some individuals might only experience one panic attack during their lifetimes, others might experience them much more frequently — even as often as several times each day.
While panic attacks can be very scary to deal with, they are not deadly by themselves.
WHY DO PANIC ATTACKS HAPPEN?
Folks who experience panic attacks regularly might have obvious triggers — like being overly stressed, hearing a song that reminds them of a traumatic experience, running into a frightening person that wronged them in the past, or going to a place that brings up bad memories. Additionally, some folks might experience panic attacks due to social events or before public speaking opportunities.
And panic attacks might seem to materialize out of the blue, with no obvious trigger. That said, there are some factors that might increase the chances that someone will experience panic attacks.
Drugs and alcohol
Those who suffer from substance abuse problems might be more likely to develop panic attacks. In particular, drinking alcohol in excess and using stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines can cause some people to experience panic attacks.
Mental health issues
Folks who have mental health issues — including depression and anxiety disorders may be more likely to suffer from panic attacks than those who do not.
Since mental health issues sometimes have a genetic component, some people might be more susceptible to panic attacks when other members of their family have them, too.
As you can see, panic attacks can rear their ugly head for any number of reasons. The good news is that there are strategies that people can use to decrease the likelihood of having severe panic attacks.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH PANIC ATTACKS
Unfortunately, panic attacks are part of life for many individuals — whether they suffer them themselves or have a friend or loved one who does. While you might not be able to prevent a panic attack from occurring, you may be able to reduce its impact. So, let’s take a look at some strategies for coping with panic attacks. These are framed to address people experiencing panic attacks to make them easier for you to share with your clients.
From the therapist to the client, “What to do when you’re suffering from a panic attack.”
1. Recognize what’s happening
Panic attacks aren’t going to kill you, and they’re temporary by nature. When you feel the symptoms of panic attacks starting, recognize what’s happening and remind yourself that you can get through it.
2. Try to relax
While it might seem like a big ask, do everything you can to remain calm and relax when you feel a panic attack coming on. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and try to return to a less anxious state. By practicing mindfulness and really trying to stay in tune with the world around you and your place in it, you may be able to ward off that feeling of not being able to control your own body.
Remind yourself that no matter how bad it seems, you are the captain of your own ship and can steer in the direction of calm. The more you internalize that mantra, the easier it may be to navigate a panic attack.
3. Focus on something you enjoy
When you feel your mind starting to run a million miles a minute, reel it back in by scanning your surroundings, focusing on something close to you, and analyzing it every which way. By zeroing in on a single object — whether it’s the closest car in the parking lot or the bookshelf in your living room — you can regain control over your thoughts, which can keep some of your symptoms in check.
How to Help Someone Who’s Having a Panic Attack
1. Stay calm
If your friend or family. member is experiencing a panic attack, the most important thing you can do is stay calm. If you get stressed out yourself, you may end up making things worse.
2. Remain nearby
Whatever you do, you need to make sure you stay by your friend or family member’s side during their panic attack, which will likely only last five or 10 minutes. Panic attacks can be physically taxing, and they might need your support.
3. Use empathy
When someone you know is experiencing a panic attack, try to put yourself in their shoes. Using empathy, talk them through the situation. Find out what’s causing their attack, whether they’ve dealt with attacks before, and what strategies they’ve used to get through them before. Be calm and compassionate and try to be the voice of reason that brings them back around.
4. Try different strategies for kids
If your child is the one experiencing panic attacks, try to avoid putting them in stressful situations. At the same time, you should also make sure they know that they can confide in you about anything that’s bothering them.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks from Happening in the First Place
1. Exercise more often
Research has found that exercising three times a week can help reduce anxiety, which can decrease the chances that a panic attack occurs. If you or someone you love is dealing with panic attacks, it could be the perfect excuse to get more active.
2. Improve your diet
One way to reduce the likelihood of panic attacks is by improving your diet. For example, you may find that eating regularly and reducing your sugar intake can help you live a more balanced and fulfilling life.
3. Avoid drugs and alcohol
Since consuming drugs and alcohol can trigger panic attacks, you’re best-off avoiding substances if you want to avoid panic attacks.
4. Seek out a therapist