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What Should I Do During a Panic Attack?

A woman thinks about what to do during a panic attack

A proactive approach can help you get through panic attacks and reduce their frequency.

Key takeaways:

  • Panic attacks are a sudden onset of anxiety.

  • They have physical symptoms like elevated heart rates and dizziness.

  • They can come from general anxiety or specific stressors.

  • Panic attacks feel very scary, but the symptoms will pass.

  • Deep breathing and grounding exercises can get you through a panic attack.

  • Exercising and regularly eating healthy meals can help reduce your anxiety.

  • A mental health professional can help you deal with panic attacks.

A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense anxiety, and it typically comes with physical symptoms such as an elevated heartbeat, shaking, nausea, or sweating. Some people feel disorientated and dizzy when they have a panic attack.

The symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, and you might feel like you're dying when a panic attack strikes. Many people who didn't know what they were experiencing have gone to the ER thinking that they were having a heart attack. But the symptoms aren't a sign of physical distress. They're a sign of anxiety.

With the right strategies, you can get through panic attacks and reduce their intensity and frequency. To help you out, we've created this guide on what to do during a panic attack.

Understanding panic attacks

People have panic attacks for many reasons. They can be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, but they can also be a reaction to life events. You may experience panic attacks after going through a traumatic event. Panic attacks can also strike when you're dealing with the death of a loved one or going through a stressful event such as moving or getting divorced.

But they can also occur during life changes that are supposed to be happy such as having a baby or starting a new job. In other cases, they can be the response to smoking or using too much caffeine.

Anyone can have a panic attack. No matter how smart, strong, or capable you are, you can experience a panic attack. Be aware of the signs of a panic attack, and if one strikes, be ready to deal with it.

Dealing with a panic attack

When you experience a panic attack, remind yourself that the symptoms are temporary. They will pass. But at the same time, acknowledge that the symptoms are happening. Regardless of what triggered your panic attack, the anxiety is real. Don't discount yourself by telling yourself that you're overreacting. Be kind to yourself.

If possible, stay where you are. Don't flee from a situation just because it's triggering your anxiety. This often happens to people who've experienced trauma. When they get in a similar situation, their brains tell them that they need to be scared. This is your brain trying to protect you, but it's misfiring. You are okay.

When you have a panic attack, your body and brain think that you're in imminent danger. But right now, you're okay. To convince your brain and body that you're okay, you need to relax and ground yourself.

To relax your body, breathe through the attack. Take deep breaths and visualize calming things. This approach works best if you practice when you're not having an anxiety attack. Try to engage your senses. Look for five things that you can see, four things that you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This will get you out of your head and bring you back to where you really are.

Addressing the source of your anxiety

Panic attacks can disrupt your daily life. Getting through a panic attack puts a Band-Aid on the situation. But you also need to be proactive about preventing panic attacks. If something specific is triggering your panic attacks, you need to find strategies to deal with it.

Sometimes, this can be simple. If you're having panic attacks about how busy you are, making to-do lists, cutting out activities that aren't important, or delegating tasks can help.

In other cases, the solution might be more complex. If you're having panic attacks due to witnessing the traumatic death of a loved one, for example, you might need to explore eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) therapy. Or if you're having panic attacks due to drugs, you may need help for people with substance abuse disorders. The right solution depends on your unique situation.

Preventing panic attacks

Regardless of why you're having panic attacks, there are general strategies that you can use to prevent them and cut down on their frequency. Check out these tips.

  • Practice deep breathing. Breathing exercises will cut down on anxiety in general, and they will also prepare you for when a panic attack strikes.

  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise, in particular, can help to abate anxiety.

  • Eat meals or snacks on a consistent schedule. When your blood sugar is out of whack, anxiety often intensifies.

  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. All of these chemicals can exacerbate anxiety and increase the risk of attacks.

  • Find ways to reduce stress. Again, the right approach varies based on your situation.

Healthy living can help reduce anxiety and minimize the risk of panic attacks but you also need to look for support. Reach out to friends, family, or even co-workers if it feels appropriate. Let them know what you're experiencing and tell them how they can help. If you have a panic attack, they may be able to help you with breathing exercises and remind you that the symptoms will pass.

You should also seek professional support. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health challenges experienced worldwide, and panic attacks are a common side effect. A mental health professional can help you address the source of your anxiety and help you learn what to do during a panic attack. They can also bring in strategies such as mindfulness, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Contact Love Discovery to help with anxiety and panic attacks

At Love Discovery, we don't believe in putting Band-Aids on the symptoms. We want to help you discover yourself and find the strategies you need to radically accept yourself and transform your life. If you're struggling with anxiety attacks, our approach to emotional and cognitive wellness can help you. You deserve to feel good — contact us to learn more at 305-605-LOVE or book an appointment today.


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