Dr. Cristina Davis
Experiencing panic attacks can be very scary, especially when the person does not know what it is. Sometimes, it may feel as if the panic attack starts out of nowhere and comes on quickly. One might feel they have difficulty breathing, may feel as if they are choking, or may believe they may die.
Feelings of loss of control may prompt an even greater surge of anxiety and the person may be unsure of what to do, and the more they try to avoid it, the stronger it becomes. Sometimes panic attacks re-occur, and a person may begin to fear the reoccurrence of another one and as a result, may begin to avoid obligations and activities they previously enjoyed.
Panic attacks are not the same as panic disorders.
A person may experience a panic attack. However, experiencing a panic attack or a few panic attacks across one’s lifetime does not mean that one has a panic disorder. However, if the panic attacks increase in frequency, and the person develops a fear that there may be a reoccurrence, they may want to seek the help of a professional. Specifically, if a person begins to avoid or limit responsibilities such as work or school and events or activities that they once enjoyed, it may be time to contact a professional for help.
It can be very frightening when one experiences a panic attack, but avoiding responsibilities, preferred activities or social events is likely to strengthen the power that the panic attacks have over an individual’s life, not reduce it. Initially, there may be an immediate comfort in avoiding previously enjoyed activities or places.
For instance, a person may find immediate relief if they believe that certain places may be more likely to prompt a panic attack. Some relief in avoiding places may also occur if the person fears experiencing a panic attack in a public place or around groups of people.
However, the avoidance of certain places or social situations can also signal to your brain and body that the threat of death that sometimes one feels during a panic attack is real. Specifically, as a person avoids a situation, they may be increasingly less likely to successfully mitigate the anxiety in these situations, and it may prolong recovery.
Steps to help your panic attacks.
Learn body relaxation techniques. Practice these techniques frequently! One relaxation technique that can be particularly helpful is deep belly breathing (also known as Diaphragmatic deep breathing). Diaphragmatic deep breathing is a simple, but very useful skill. You can use it anytime, do not need any additional tools or items to do it, and it is discreet, so you can do it anywhere.
It is especially important to practice diaphragmatic deep breathing when you are calm. The more you practice this while you are calm, the easier it will be to remember and use when you feel the physical sensations approaching that signal to you that a panic attack is approaching. Over time and with practice, you will master this skill. It will be more familiar to you and easier for you to use when you are in distress.
You can practice this skill by looking at yourself in a mirror. Now, slowly take a deep breath and pay attention to your chest and your diaphragm. Which part of your body moved more? The goal of this exercise is for your chest to move less and your diaphragm to move much more.
In addition, exhale slowly so that your exhales are longer than your inhales. Continue to do this, focusing on the physical sensations of your breath entering your nose or mouth as well as the physical sensations of your breath as you exhale through your mouth.
For instance, how would you describe the temperature of your breath? How do your lungs feel as you inhale and exhale? Pay attention to the pressure of your breath in your lungs as you inhale and exhale and describe the physical sensations to yourself. Notice the sensations of your muscles as they relax.
Consider other physical sensations that you feel as you complete the exercise and describe them with as clear detail as possible. Continue to do this for 10-minutes. Initially, it may feel awkward, and that is ok. Just keep practicing it. Practice this exercise frequently while you are calm and not experiencing a panic attack.
Another helpful option is to talk with someone you trust. Consider speaking with a friend, a pastor, or a family member that you feel that you can confide in. Panic attacks can make you feel ‘crazy,’ but you are not, and you do not have to approach the challenges related to experiencing panic attacks alone.
Another option that may be helpful to consider is tracking symptoms after they occur. This does not have to be perfectly timed or laminated but jotting down some details may be useful, especially if professional help is sought out later.
The date, time of day, duration, location(s), and the context of the situation when the panic attack occurs may be beneficial to track. This may help to become increasingly aware of the early signs of a panic attack so intervening early may be more likely.
In addition, the tracking of information will allow an individual to reflect on any similarities between the time, location, etc. in which they experience panic attack symptoms. If you seek professional help, this information can be a valuable resource for the provider as it can be used to help your provider understand the development of your symptoms as well as develop an individualized treatment plan for you.
Another option is to seek out the help of a psychiatrist that can prescribe medications to manage the symptoms you may be experiencing. If you do not already have one, your therapist or primary care physician may be able to recommend one to you. In addition, consider scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) to rule out any possible underlying medical issues.
Find a therapist that has experience treating people that experience panic attacks. A skilled therapist can help you understand what is occurring in your mind and body, provide you a safe place to share and process any particularly stressful situations you may have experienced, help you identify effective coping skills that can help you tolerate stress caused by panic attacks and manage your panic attack symptoms.
Multiple treatment approaches can help you tolerate, manage, and overcome any anxiety and/or panic attack-related symptoms you may be experiencing. If interested, your primary care provider may be able to recommend a therapist as well.
In summary, panic attacks do not equate to a panic attack disorder. Although the intensity can be frightening, there are things you can learn and do before reaching out for professional help. On your own, you can learn and practice relaxation techniques and speak with a trusted person in your life.
However, if you notice that the panic attacks increase in frequency, become increasingly difficult to manage, or interfere with your life or the things that you enjoy doing, it may be time to reach out to a professional for help. You do not have to wait until the symptoms become so bad that they are debilitating. Early intervention is better. Do not hesitate to locate resources and ask for help.
Remember that you are capable of doing this. At times, it may feel overwhelming and difficult to manage, but it can change. If you diligently change, eventually, you will achieve it. Although at times, it may be difficult to focus your attention on any progress made, you must.
For instance, if you make an appointment to meet with a therapist today, celebrate. If you followed through on your first appointment, celebrate. If you continue to attend sessions on time and participate fully in sessions, celebrate. If you complete therapeutic homework assignments assigned by your therapist, celebrate.
Your attention may want to be drawn to the progress you have not yet made, so it is important to be intentional in redirecting your attention to your efforts and progress in the current moment. It will be challenging, at times, but you do not have to do it alone.
If you feel that you are ready to take the next step and seek professional help for panic attacks, call Seattle Christian Counseling and schedule a risk-free initial session with me, today.
“Taxis”, Courtesy of Scott Umstattd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Inhale, Exhale, Repeat”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Distraught”, Courtesy of Meghan Hessler, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Phone Call”, Courtesy of Taylor Grote, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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