Having a panic attack can feel like the most frightening thing you have ever experienced. The thought of having one can affect your daily life and even stop you from doing ordinary things or going to certain places.
Explaining the feeling to people who have never suffered a panic attack can be difficult. From the outside you may look like you are doing just fine but in your head you feel like you are going to explode.
What is a Panic Attack
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into “fight or flight” mode. As you try to take in more oxygen, your breathing gets quicker. Your body will also release hormones, like adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and faster. The harder you try to catch your breath the worse it becomes. The panic attack may cause your muscles to tense up, like the whole world is piling down on your shoulders.
A panic attack can be triggered by lots of things – perhaps an awkward situation, a place, a smell, a person or a flashback. Maybe you’re stressed about an exam or job interview. It could be down to something as seemingly simple as the prospect of having to board a train.
What happens physically
- Your heart rate increases
- You may start to sweat
- Your hands could start shaking
- Your vision may go blurred
- Hearing can become distorted
- Your skin can feel like its burning
- Chest tightens
- You feel sick
- You feel dizzy and disorientated
In your mind
- Rational thoughts are replaced by irrational ones
- Imagination can ‘run away’ with you
- You think everyone is staring at you
- You think this feeling will go on forever
- You think this is the end of the world
- You may feel angry
How long do Panic Attacks last?
The length of a panic attack can vary. They can last between 30 seconds to 30+ minutes.
Six Coping Techniques
1. Deep breaths – Breathe in and out very slowly. If it helps, close your eyes. Really concentrate on your breathing. If you have trouble concentrating on your breaths you can download an app that can help you to focus by listening to a guided meditation or breathing exercise. Headspace is a great resource that guides you through ten minutes of deep relaxing breathing.
There are also moving images that you can download that help calm your breathing, by getting you to focus on something visual.
2. Look around – What can you see? Chose something to look at, a bird maybe, watch it, where is it going, what is it doing? Distract your mind by making up a story about it. Or concentrate on a stranger walking past you – where are they going? Where have they been? Let your imagination concentrate on them rather than you.
3. Count things – This is another distraction technique, it really works! If you are on a train or a bus, try counting the seats. You will be surprised how your breathing can slow when you are concentrating on counting things. If you are at home, count all the things in the room you are in. If you are at school, count people, pencils, posters on the wall. If you lose focus with counting things, start counting backwards from 100.
4. Repeat the alphabet – Take a really deep breath in between the letters. Maybe before moving on to the next one, think of something that begins with that letter. This sounds simple, but often it’s simple things that distract your mind and relieve those physical symptoms too.
5. Think of an uplifting quote – One that makes you feel strong or calm. Repeat it over and over until your breathing slows and you start believing it. Don’t underestimate the power of those words. If you are with someone, maybe ask them to repeat those words to you so that you hear them from another voice.
Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
You are stronger than you think.
Hold on, stay strong, you will make it through.
You got this.
6. Listen to music – If you have a mobile phone or iPod with your favourite tunes on, make a playlist of songs you love so you can play it when you are having a panic attack. Have that playlist handy so that you can just pop your headphones on and use the music to get you through the attack. Music has an amazing way of lifting us when we are down, it can transport us to a place or time where we feel safe and calm.
We know that panic attacks can be frightening and coming out of one can make you feel drained and exhausted. Once you feel you have recovered take some time to do something you know will make you feel good, practice some self-care. It’s a massive deal to come out of the other side of a panic attack, they really do take it out of you. Remember for next time: you got this.
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