Coping with panic attacks
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense anxiety. Sometimes attacks are triggered by something specific that frightens us. However, we can panic spontaneously for no apparent reason. This can be very upsetting and frightening.
There are various sypmtoms that may be experienced during a panic attack:
- Shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing
- Palpitations or a sensation of the heart beating faster than usual
- A sense of feeling 'unreal'
- Pains or tightness in the chest
- Unsteadiness, trembling or feelings of dizziness
- Excess sweating
- Feeling faint
- A fear of dying or losing control
- Tingling in your hands and feet
- Choking or feeling you are being smothered
- Panic attacks are a common symptom of anxiety; one in ten people in Britain suffer a panic attack every day. It is more common in women than men. There are many reasons why we may experience panic attacks: often we have experienced a period of prolonged stress but haven't recognised the cumulative effect this has had.
It may help to talk to friends or a counsellor to identify areas of your life that may be upsetting you and take the opportunity to express your feelings and discover new ways of coping with stressful situations.
What to do if you are having a panic attack
- Sit down somewhere comfortable, away from too many other people if possible
- Stop, take a break and try to think about what it is that's making you panic
- Think positive thoughts. Tell yourself that you're not going to die, that the attack is harmless and will soon pass.
- Keep reminding yourself that you'll be fine
- If you're hyperventilating practise your breathing techniques. If you haven't learnt any yet, breath very slowly and steadily by counting along with each of the breaths. Try to hold each breath for three counts
- The old paper bag trick might be useful. Take a paper bag and hold it over your nose and mouth tightly with cupped hands. This helps you to inhale your own carbon dioxide and slows your breathing
- Instead of trying to run away from the scene, tell yourself that you'll stay for one or two minutes. When that time's up try to promise to stay for another couple of minutes. If it proves to be too much, don't be afraid to leave the area
How you can help yourself
- Relaxation techniques make it more difficult to panic, because tension is part of an attack.
- Control your diet. Alcohol and too much coffee may make you more prone to anxiety.
- Learn to breathe properly. Breathing techniques can help to prevent hyperventilation.
- Regular exercise reduces anxiety and helps to rid the body of the stress hormone adrenaline.
- Distraction techniques can take your mind off the panic and any symptoms during an attack.