We can all feel nervous or worried sometimes, and those are generally emotions that we can push through because we know they come and go. Yet for many of us, those feelings can quickly skyrocket to intense levels of anxiety, feeling terribly overwhelming and even unbearable as the emotions continue for what can feel like an eternity. In those instances, a person may be having a panic attack.
Has this happened to you? Do you wonder if you’ve had a panic attack in the past? Only a medical health professional can make a formal diagnosis and rule out other medical conditions, such as heart disease, hypothyroidism, or diabetes. If they do diagnose an anxiety disorder, it could be the foundation of the panic attacks.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
A healthcare provider will first ask you about your experience, including physical and emotional responses, so they can fully understand what you experienced. Below is a list of potential symptoms; be sure to mention anything else you may have felt or thought during the experience.
Physical Symptoms of Panic Attacks
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Shaking or chills
- Shortness of breath
Emotional Symptoms of Panic Attacks
- Intense fear
- Feeling a loss of control
- A sense that what is around you isn’t real
- A feeling like you are “outside” of your environment
- Thinking that you are “going crazy”
- A feeling that you could die right then
How Can You Take Control of Panic Attacks?
You might be surprised to learn that a diagnosis serves as one of the best ways to manage your panic attacks. A formal diagnosis allows you to understand the underlying causes of what you are feeling and provides reassurance that you aren’t experiencing a medical emergency or the threat of death. Plus, knowing that you have the ability to manage the situation is a powerful tool.
Knowing that you have the ability to manage the situation is a powerful tool.
So how can you take control of your panic attacks during the moment?
How often have you heard someone say, “Just take a deep breath”? While that advice can be frustrating to hear, scientifically speaking, it really is the most effective and easiest action. Breathing deeply into your lungs and belly and then exhaling at a slow and regulated pace lowers your heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and allows more oxygen to reach your brain.
The goal is to stop the spiraling, negative thoughts running through your head. Look around and name three things you see. Close your eyes and name three things you hear. Touch or hold three parts of your body. Repeat if you need to or transition into another activity described here.
Create Physical Sensations
Shift your brain’s focus to a different sensation. Run your hands under very cold water or place one hand in a bowl of ice. Rub your hands together to create warmth and make yourself aware of your body. Spray a spritz of perfume or air freshener. Listen to music.
Rewire Your Thoughts
You may keep repeating negative thoughts during a panic attack, perhaps becoming progressively upsetting: “I can’t breathe.” “This will never end.” “I’m going to die.” Prepare a script to replace those thoughts, such as, “I know what this is. This is a panic attack. It will go away. I will get through this, just like I have before.”
Keep a Journal
Documenting the patterns of your panic attacks helps you understand your triggers and helps you to prepare for those situations. In your journal, note the time of day when the attack occurred, the duration, the intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, and the setting or type of activity you were doing. When you know that you are having an attack because of one of your triggers, you can shorten the attack by taking control sooner with the methods above.
When Should You Seek Help?
If panic attacks are getting in the way of your daily life, that’s when you want to reach out to a mental health professional. Are you unable to go to work or school? Are you avoiding social situations? Are there things you used to love doing but now are afraid to do? You should also reach out if you feel like your panic attacks are controlling your life or if you are feeling continually fearful of having another attack.
Have your attacks led to depression, suicidal thoughts, or abusing drugs or alcohol? Please don’t wait to seek help! Along with scheduling an appointment with a medical professional, you can take immediate action by going to a hospital emergency room or calling 911. Call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255, or attend an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous Meeting in person or online.
Don’t Fight the Battle Alone
If you experience frequent panic attacks, you should not have to feel alone. At Bloom Health Centers, we can quickly provide you with a diagnosis so that you are equipped to better understand the causes of your panic attacks and manage them. We design treatment plans specific to each individual, which could include medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two.
With the right tools, you can be free of the emotional and physical burdens that hold you back from enjoying life to the fullest.
Take that important first step today.