Panic Attacks: Symptoms and How to Handle Them

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This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

The stress that seems impossible to manage and full-fledged expression of both mild and chronic anxiety, a classic panic attack can strike without warning. Panic attacks can happen at any time during the day and even during the night time.

People who frequently experience panic attacks usually believe they’re going to have a heart attack or they’re dying, and some even fall into utter despair.

The terror and fear that people experience during panic attacks aren’t actually real and it all starts in their heads. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand it and they let those fear and terror control their minds and bodies. A panic attack is a physical manifestation of what’s happening inside your head and it can trick you into believing you’re having another severe health event, such as a heart attack.

But luckily, it’s possible to learn how to cope with a panic attack and prevent it from happening.

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Are panic attacks dangerous?

Although a panic attack itself isn’t harmful, even those 10 minutes of terror and fear can significantly increase your stress levels and eventually lead to mental disorders as well as physical diseases like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.

When you experience panic attacks several times a day, you’re at risk of developing a panic attack disorder, which is one of the types of anxiety disorders. Remember that if you experience a panic attack once, you’re more likely to experience it more often down the road. That’s why learning how to handle it early is vital.

What are the major symptoms of panic attacks?

The symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common ones are:

  • unknown fear (sometimes overwhelming and intense);
  • tingling sensations;
  • numbness;
  • cold and hot flashes;
  • burning skin;
  • weakness and numbness in the knees;
  • turning pale;
  • chest pain or pressure;
  • shortness of breath;
  • sweating;
  • shaking;
  • trembling;
  • heart palpitations;
  • dizziness;
  • the feeling of loss;
  • the feeling of running somewhere or urgently doing something;
  • the feeling of a lost reality;
  • social isolation;
  • sense of terror, death, or impending doom

When the symptoms are ignored, they can grow into more serious ones that people with a panic disorder often have:

  • tightening throat;
  • choking sensation;
  • feeling like an apple is stuck in the throat;
  • crying;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • frequent and sudden bathroom visits (either to defecate or urinate);
  • butterflies in the stomach;
  • racing, pounding heart;
  • panic;
  • tight stomach;
  • unbearable fear;
  • emotional upset and distress;
  • unsteadiness, lightheadedness, and dizziness;
  • feeling unreal;
  • feeling separated from yourself;
  • feeling detached from reality;
  • confusion;
  • various types of derealization.

How to prevent panic attacks in a daily life

It’s important to practice the panic attack prevention even when you aren’t panicking.

The most effective way to prevent panic attacks is to include wellness and relaxation in your daily life, even when you don’t experience any symptoms of a panic attack. The everyday practice maintains a reduction in the duration, frequency, and intensity of panic attacks.

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How to tame panic attacks

People who experience panic attacks each day are also more likely to suffer from chronic depression, alcohol or drug addictions, and can even attempt suicide. Luckily, a panic attack is treatable and it’s possible to get rid of it in the long run.

Medications and psychotherapy have been applied, either in combination or singly for successful treatment of a panic attack and disorder. But who wants to take antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or certain anticonvulsant drugs? Tame your panic attacks in a healthier way by using the following tips:

1.Ease up on the worry

When a panic attack occurs, you tend to focus on the threatening aspect of the current situation, instead of seeing the whole picture.

Panic makes your mind contract and focus on the fear and threat, refusing to consider the broader context. Take a second and think about the importance of this situation. Will this problem be as critical in 5, 10, or 20 years as it is now? Visualize it and you’ll see there’s nothing to fear or worry about right now.

2.Label it

If millions of negative thoughts strike your mind during a panic attack, you can try using a method of labeling the thoughts. Not only will it help you distract yourself from negative thoughts, but also help you calm down. We fear the unknown, so when you label all your thoughts, you’ll know what you’re dealing with and calm down.

Take a piece of paper and write down each thought you have. Now place a dash and label each thought. For example, if you start fearing to get a heart attack right now, you can label it as “Hearty fear.” Or if you begin to judge yourself or a situation you’re in, label it as “Judging.” The whole writing, determining, and thinking processes will shift your focus and help you eliminate negative thoughts from your mind.

3.Learn an affirmative language

The power of positive affirmations has been proven to help people with low self-esteem, mental disorders, and panic attacks. The affirmative language helps to combat the most common causes of panic attacks – especially if you tend to scare yourself during the attack.

Instead of thinking, “It’s horrible. I feel like I won’t tolerate this anymore. I’m afraid, lost, and overwhelmed,” say the quite real yet more positive things like, “All people experience stress and occasional panic attacks. It’s absolutely normal and not dangerous. I have enough power to survive this. I’m not afraid and I know what my goals are.” Even if you think otherwise, just say it loud. Fake it till you make it.

4.Try diaphragmatic breathing

The relaxed, slow, diaphragmatic breathing causes your body to stimulate a natural tranquilizing effect.

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This effect reduces the stress response and helps your body calm down. Slow breathing is the key to connecting your consciousness with your subconscious. When you take short breaths during your panic attack, you make your symptoms worse. The slower and deeper breaths, on the other hand, help your body to relax and feel at peace.

5.Distract yourself

Distracting yourself can prevent panic thinking. As a result, you prevent voluntary panic attacks.

There are tons of ways to distract your attention, but make sure you avoid television, social media, and movies. Consider the methods, such as organizing your desk, cleaning your room, counting, reading a positive book, calling a friend, or playing a board game. Whatever you choose to do, it has to calm your thoughts and keep the panic feeling away.

6.Visualize a positive day/week/month

That’s a kind of distraction as well, but it helps you train your positive thinking, eliminating the likelihood of anxious thoughts.

When a panic attack strikes, try visualizing the nearest future (not the future overall!) in a positive light. If you’re on the go, you can do it by closing your eyes and visualizing some happy events and things happening today or this week/month. If you’re at home, consider drawing those happy events.

7.Practice cognitive distancing

View your panic thoughts and fears as the guesses, not the facts. It’s easier said than done, but you have to try.

When a panic attack strikes, your mind does everything possible to protect you from the worst by predicting what bad might occur in the next moment, but just because something bad could occur doesn’t necessarily mean it will.

Practice cognitive distancing that involves objective evidence. Ask yourself, “Do you have any proof that something bad will happen the next moment? Is there anything positive that could happen instead? It helps to prevent you from being fused with your anxious thoughts.

8.Move your body

Exercise is an important component of your mental health. It provides a few powerful tools necessary for managing panic attacks, chronic anxiety, and even depression.

Running and jogging have been proven to fight negative thoughts and stimulate the production of dopamine and endorphins within your body system, which can boost your feelings of happiness and pleasure. Moreover, exercise lowers the amount of stress hormone in your body, warding off any bad feelings, including terror and fear.

9.Start journaling

Since a panic attack has a lot of various physical and mental symptoms, the last ones are often what seems the most difficult to manage. You can definitely ignore nausea, trembling, chills, hot flashes, and pains, but it’s difficult to ignore anxious thoughts and worries that refuse to leave your mind and try to convince you something bad is going to happen to your health or your life. Journaling has the healing and calming effects.

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First, write out all of those worries and panic thoughts in your journal. This way, you’ll trick your brain into thinking that all those worries and thoughts are in a permanent place and they’re not in your head anymore.

Second, write down as many positive things that happened today or this week as possible. Focus on the details and avoid anything negative. Journal each day, even when you’re calm and happy.

If you typically have several panic attacks throughout the day, you can challenge yourself by writing 20 positive things you notice during the day. Keep your journal handy to write down the thing each time you notice it. This way, you’ll be busy looking for the positive events rather than experiencing panic thoughts and fears.

10.Practice mindfulness meditation

Not only does mindfulness meditation helps to tame panic thoughts and reduce the stress hormone release, but also help to change the function and structure of your brain to work better and even make it healthier. Meditation itself is an excellent way to combat anxious thoughts, however, a regular mindfulness meditation (that’s one of the styles of meditation) does more to you than just connecting with your inner self.

Mindfulness teaches you to view your fears and thoughts in a different way. You train yourself to recognize and prevent mental time trips, which involve ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, or judging yourself.

Start with sitting with your legs crossed comfortably in front of you and your eyes closed. Place the upper arms parallel to the upper body. Feel your breath, drawing your focus to the physical sensations of breathing. You may eventually find your mind wandering in another place. Allow yourself to do it. Let your imagination thrive. Notice your emotions and thoughts. Notice your invented world or location. Perhaps, you may want to create such a peaceful place in your real life.

Mindfulness meditation won’t only keep your panic attacks at bay, but will also improve your overall mental health.

Regardless of how powerful a panic attack is, it will eventually end. You have to realize it. If you control your anxious thinking, nothing horrible will ever happen.

You can end your panic attacks faster by following some or all of the aforementioned tips.  Also realize that you’re not going to experience unending panic attacks, albeit sometimes you can feel like it never ends. Handling the panic attack knowing that it will go away will help you stay calm, shutting off the stress response and reducing the risk of chronic anxiety. If you experience severe panic attacks and you have trouble taming them, see your doctor as soon as possible.