What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are an extremely scary and unpleasant experience. They often come abruptly, and symptoms can cause the individual to feel as though they are losing touch with reality. Thankfully, we know that panic attacks are not dangerous to your health, and simply arrive as a response to prolonged stress, a traumatic event, or are the result of genetics. Sexual violence is extremely traumatic, making panic attacks very common among survivors. The effects include feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, shock, confusion, nervousness, paranoia, phobias and flashbacks. These common symptoms can often make one more susceptible to experiencing panic attacks.
When we have a panic attack our body enters fight or flight mode. This occurs when something sets off our inner alert system. For example, imagine you run into a wild animal that is an obvious threat to your safety; your heart begins to race, adrenaline flows through the body and you run. Panic attacks create the same sensation, as your body is in fight or flight mode. However, typically when a panic attack occurs, there is not always an obvious threat. It can happen anywhere or at any time, which leaves you feeling scared for when panic will return next. On the other hand, there are certain triggers that can set off your fight or flight response resulting in a panic attack.
Perhaps, enclosed spaces trigger a feeling of being trapped which in turn creates a panic attack. On the other hand, certain smells, sounds, or visuals could also be a trigger. Nonetheless, it’s not always obvious and that’s okay. Sometimes we’ve just been experiencing prolonged stress and a panic attack is the way your body is reacting to it.
Ultimately, the reasons are countless, but again there is not always a simple answer for why they happen. The most important thing is that you learn how to manage your panic attacks in a healthy manner.
This article will discuss common symptoms of panic attacks as well as strategies to take control and manage them.
There are a variety of symptoms for panic attacks, and they can often be confused for serious health conditions such as heart attacks. These symptoms can be extremely distressing for one to go through. Thankfully, a panic attack is a temporary feeling that will pass. Whether it goes on for five minutes or half an hour, it cannot hurt you. However, if concerned for your health or want reassurance, speak with your healthcare provider. They can give you a proper diagnosis and help you manage and better understand these distressing symptoms.
Below, I’ve listed the symptoms many tend to experience.
- Racing heart
- Sweaty palms
- Derealization (sense of feeling detached from your surroundings)
- Limp or numb feeling in arms, fingers or legs
- Extreme shakiness and trembling
- Trouble swallowing one’s saliva
- Dry mouth
- The belief that you’re dying
- Tight throat
- Hot flashes
- Feeling faint
- Loss in appetite
What you can do during a panic attack
1) Change the scenery
Go outside, enter a different room but give yourself a change of scenery. This helps distract and clear your mind. It’s almost the same as leaving for air in a crowded gymnasium. Leaving the room where it began can almost feel like a breath of fresh air.
Water can do wonders. Whether it’s drinking it or splashing some on your face, both strategies can be soothing, and create relaxation.
Grounding is a great technique to use during a panic attack. Find one thing you can taste, two things you can smell, three things you can hear, four things you can touch and five you can see. Grounding can allow you to feel more in control, and when we’re going through a panic attack, lack of control can be a major emotion we feel. If you want to learn more about grounding techniques, you can find more information here.
Meditation is a wonderful way to relax yourself during a panic attack. If you’re prone to anxiety meditation is extremely beneficial even when you’re not in a state of panic. Now I know, it can be tough to reach that level of focus to meditate but it is far less complicated than you think. I recommend searching on youtube for a guided meditation geared toward calming you down from a panic attack. Having someone lead you through this mediation and speak to you in a calm manner can be relaxing (even if they’re not really there).
For some, finding a distraction during a panic attack is what’s most beneficial. Perhaps, turning on the television to your favourite show or watching something upbeat is a way to calm down and distract your mind.
6) Seek support from a loved one
Being alone during a panic attack can be scary, especially if you haven’t had much experience with them. If possible, find a loved one who can accompany you during this time. Even if they’re just sitting there, having someone you feel safe around, can ease those feelings of doom and fear.
7) Create a mantra
Our mind is a powerful place and the words we say to ourselves can dictate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours far more than we realize. A mantra is a phrase you can say when you feel a panic attack emerging. The words in your mantra are meant to calm you down, and remind you that you will get through this. Write them down when you’re in a good headspace and say whichever phrase resonates the most with you when experiencing a panic attack.
Here are some helpful mantras to say during a panic attack: This will not hurt me, I am safe and loved, This feeling will pass, I am strong and will get through this.
The best thing to know when having a panic attack is that it cannot hurt you. I know I’ve said this countless times, but it’s true. When you know and believe this, they will occur less often and will be less intense. Remember, the feeling of a panic attack will pass, and when you learn how to manage them they won’t be as scary. Be kind to your body, be gentle and don’t feel ashamed. A panic attack is not your fault, and not always in your control.
Written by: Taryn Herlich