Tight chest, rising body temperature, difficulty breathing, confusion, feeling crazy, feeling like you might day, the space getting smaller around you, inability to think, unintentional crying, unexplainable terror, shutting down, hyperventilating…
DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 4.7% of US citizens experience panic disorder at some point in their lives. As a therapist, I see a high prevalence of clients with panic attacks. To be completely transparent, I have been a victim of panic attacks as well.
The prognosis of panic attacks can vary. Based on my clinical and personal experience, I can attest to 3 different cases.
- Some people are able to gain full control of their panic attacks. Meaning that they feel it coming up, but they can manage the symptoms — making the panic state relatively mild.
- For some people, panic attacks dissolve entirely or only happen once in a blue moon.
- There are other unfortunate cases in which the conditions seem to be chronic, and almost nothing helps stop them. If you can relate to this category, I validate your frustration. At the same time, I want to say that although some conditions are chronic and do not have a magical cure, you are alive. You get to live the life you deserve regardless of this condition. Please, do not give up on your life. My recommendation is that you truly learn how to manage them.
Through research and experience, I have learned that “coping skills” help de-escalate panic attacks’ severity and frequency. However, it is essential to remember that most panic attacks need to run their course.
The key: We need to learn to sit with emotional distress
Therefore, I will not give you a list of coping skills but steps to help you get through the panic attack.
1. Practice Acceptance
Acknowledge that you are feeling anxious.
Recognize the physical, physiological, and mental signs.
Accept the emotions and sensations and try to stay present.
2. Allow yourself to feel
It is helpful to use affirmation statements to help your mind to comply
- “I allow myself to acknowledge the signs from my body.”
- “I give myself permission to experience these emotions.”
- “I am in control and allow myself to breathe.”
- “It’s okay to sit down with this feeling.”
I know this might be one of the most challenging steps to complete. But I want you to try your best:
- Sit in a safe place.
- Get determined to control your breathing.
1, 2, 3…
- Take a deep breath through your nose.
- Exhale through your mouth
- Repeat three times
4. Control your inner dialogue
After your breathing, take a moment to become aware of what you are thinking. If possible, alter your inner dialogue with a (personal) statement that you find soothing.
For example” “This feeling will go away, it will pass, and I can still go about my day without shame or fear. Anxiety cannot hurt me.”
5. Use distraction to your benefit
Once you feel a bit more under control, make it a point to remind yourself that you are in control of your body. You do not have to stay there spaced out. You can move your body and distract yourself from the remaining emotions.
Ideas: coloring, drawing, taking a walk, changing rooms, petting your pet, holding a pillow, drinking water, letting water get through your hands, reading something, playing a game on your phone.
6. Allow time to pass.
You may feel alienated after a panic attack. Only you can decide how long you want to carry the remaining negative feelings from the attack. I recommend that once the panic state is gone, you make peace with it. Please forgive yourself, and dispose of any feelings of shame or inadequacy.
A final word:
The only way to stop fearing panic is to experience it and remind yourself that it cannot hurt you. There Is no need to avoid or fight.
If you decide to try this exercise, please do not hesitate to share your experience with me.