Written by Rebekah Scott (last updated April 27, 2012)
Millions of Americans experience panic attacks at some point in their lives. Panic attacks are an anxiety disorder that can come on rapidly and without warning. They can be triggered by any number of things that will vary from person to person.
The most common physical symptoms of a panic attack are racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, tense and constricting muscles, and hot flashes. The psychological effects of a panic attack can be more debilitating than the physical effects. When someone is experiencing a panic attack, they can feel a strong need to flee and escape. This is a normal instinctive reaction since people in the middle of a panic attack may believe that they are in eminent danger from an outside threat that will seriously harm them. To someone observing another person go through a panic attack, these psychological symptoms may seem farfetched, but to the person suffering they feel very real.
When a panic attack first hits, the best thing to do is to try and remain calm. At the time this may seem completely counterintuitive, but panic builds on panic. If you are able to talk yourself down from a heightened sense of fear and anxiety, you will get over your panic attack much more quickly. Many people find it helpful to pick a mantra or reassuring words to repeat to themselves for the next time a panic attack hits. If you need to write these words down, do it. Keep them posted on your refrigerator, at your desk at work, or in your car. You may even want to keep a copy in your wallet so that you will always have them with you.
As you are talking yourself down, focus on physically relaxing every tense spot in your body. Muscles tend to constrict during a panic attack, and this only adds to the feeling of tension that is being felt. Try imagining that you have no bones or muscles in your body and go as limp as you can.
Physically relaxing your body should also help you regain control of your breathing. Though it will take some concerted effort at first, take long, deep breaths in through your nose and slowly exhale them through your mouth. Calm and steady breathing will also help slow a rapid heart rate and bring the body back to a state of wellbeing.
It may be helpful to write all of these tips down so that when a panic attack hits you have a reminder of how to help you calm down. If you practice these steps enough times before you have another panic attack, they will become second nature to you and you will feel more confident in your ability to successfully manage your panic attacks.
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