Don’t Panic – It is an often-heard phrase. You hear it a countless number of times in a day. You hear it in movies, conversation, television, and you even say it to yourself. But you may ask why? And how to stop a panic attack? Or how to help someone having a panic attack? What to do during a panic attack? Or, do you even know how long does a panic attack last?
Well, all of us experience panic attacks, experience intense anxiety or fear, lose control or react irrationally in the face of life-threatening events. Panic attacks often hinder your ability to think logically. Before you can register what is happening to your body, it releases hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, etc., that signal danger. These hormones trigger physical reactions such as shallow breathing, shaking, sweating and shivering, palpitations, and other unpleasant physical sensations.
Most of us, at some point, experience panic attacks or witness others experiencing it in response to acute stress or danger. But if panic attacks are recurring even in the absence of danger or anxiety, then the condition may be called panic disorder. Panic attacks are overpowering, sudden, and intense. But knowing what to do when the panic is on the rise can reduce the severity or help stop them.
While you cannot predict when a panic attack will take you by a storm, planning what can be done when they occur helps manage the episode and feel more in control. But to know how to stop a panic attack, how to help someone having a panic attack, or what to do during a panic attack, you must know signs and symptoms.
Signs & Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can happen at any place and time. The signs and manifestations of a panic attack emerge abruptly and usually approach their peak within ten minutes. They seldom last more than an hour.
Here are the signs and symptoms you must look out for –
- Rapid breathing
- Feelings of fear and anxiety
- Intense, repetitive worrying
- Chest pain
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Fear of dying
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
- Hot flashes
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Trembling or shaking
- Flushing skin
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficult
- Tightness in your throat
- Abdominal cramping
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Derealization (feelings of unreality)
- Depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’
It may seem that you may lose your mind, faint, or die. But in truth, you won’t.
Signs & Symptoms of Panic Disorder
While some people experience just one or two odd instances of panic attacks without developing any complications, some people develop panic disorder. It is characterized by recurring episodes of panic attacks combined with persistent anxiety or significant behavioral changes.
You may have a panic disorder if you –
- Experience frequent panic attacks that are unrelated to any specific situation
- Are behaving differently because of panic attacks, or
- Worry about having a panic attack
Whereas a single panic attack lasts only a few minutes, the impact of the experience can take an emotional toll and leave a lasting imprint. The unpleasant memory of the attack can negatively impact your self-confidence and disrupt your everyday life. This may lead to the following panic disorder symptoms:
In this condition, instead of feeling relaxed between panic attacks, you feel fearful, anxious, and tensed about future panic attacks. It can be highly disabling.
In this condition, you may begin to avoid physical spaces based on the belief that the physical space you are avoiding caused the previous panic attack. At an extreme level, phobic avoidance transforms into agoraphobia.
Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder – Causes
The exact cause of panic attacks and disorders is not known. But it is safe to assume that the tendency is hereditary. It is also connected to significant transitions in life such as graduating from school or college, entering a new workplace, getting hitched, having a baby, or stressful events such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or death of a loved one. If you experience any sign or symptom of a panic attack, you must see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities – Existing medical conditions also cause panic attacks and disorders
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Medication withdrawal
How To Stop A Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are scary. It may hit you when you expect it the least. It may make you feel completely powerless. But that is not entirely true. No matter how out of control it makes you feel, there are many things you can do to help your cause. You might be wondering about what to do during a panic attack, how to stop a panic attack, or how long does a panic attack lasts, and how to help someone having a panic attack.
To answer all these questions in one go, here are 14 self-help techniques that you can try to overcome a panic attack or stop it completely.
Acknowledge The Panic Attack
By acknowledging the panic attack, you can remind yourself it will pass because it is temporary.
Educate Yourself – Learn about Panic and Anxiety
Simply knowing about panic attacks and disorders can go a long way in helping you overcome the distress.
Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, and Tobacco
Those who consume these substances are more susceptible to panic attacks and disorders. The same goes for medication that contains stimulants.
Control Your Breathing
By learning to control your breathing or breathing deeply, you can calm yourself down.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Activities such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Meditation, and Yoga can relax your body and strengthen the body’s response to stress.
Connect With Family & Friends
Panic attacks can get worse if you are alone. Reach out to your near and dear ones so you have people to support you.
It is a natural anxiety reliever. 30 minutes of rhythmic exercise such as walking, running, dancing, or swimming is adequate.
Insufficient or not-so-sound sleep can worsen anxiety. 7-9 hours of sleep is sufficient to rejuvenate your body and mind.
Close Your Eyes
A fast-paced environment can feed a panic attack. To reduce being stimulated by the environment, close your eyes during the attack.
Being mindful can help you stay grounded in the reality of what is around you.
Visualize a Happy Place
What’s the most relaxing place you can think of? A cabin in the mountain woods? A sunny beach with gently rolling waves? Picture yourself there.
Tea or Oil – Keep Lavender Handy
Known for being stress-relieving, Lavender can help your body relax. So, breathe in the scent, drink that Lavender tea and relax.
Distract yourself by counting backward when you feel your heart pounding or experience any other physical symptom. By focusing on something apart from your anxiety and controlling your thoughts, you will be able to feel calmer.
Find a Peaceful Comfort Zone
Find a peaceful spot away from noise or a busy room. A quiet space will make it easier to focus on your breathing.
Panic Attack & Panic Disorders – Treatment
Once the underlying causes, such as medical conditions and other factors, are identified, panic attacks and disorders are treatable. Here are some of the options –
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
It is a type of cognitive therapy that focuses upon individual psychotherapy and group skills training to empower people to learn new skills such as mindfulness and distress tolerance to manage anxiety and panic attacks. The therapists attempt to strike a balance between change and validation. This is done by clearly communicating acceptance of who the client is and the challenges the client’s faces while simultaneously helping the client improve emotion regulation by learning new skills, interpersonal communication skills, and coping with problems without resorting to impulsive behavior.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is based on the foundation that our thoughts are responsible for how we feel and behave. That external events, people, or situations are not accountable for how we feel or behave. CBT focuses on changing the way we think in order to feel and act in a better way even if the external situation is adverse. It focuses on determining the thought process and behavior patterns responsible for causing panic attacks. This time-limited process employs various cognitive and behavioral techniques to usher in that change.
This therapy has been around for long. It involves exposing the client to a safe and controlled environment to physical sensations similar to those during panic attacks. In this therapy, the therapist asks the client to mimic activities such as performing jumping jacks, running around, or holding breath to cause panic symptoms. By doing so repeatedly, the trigger that causes a panic attack will eventually lose its power.
Panic attacks are all about anxiety. They happen when we are apprehensive about the stress it will cause and the feelings associated with it. But it is essential to understand that no amount of anxiety caused by panic attacks is harmful or physically dangerous.
To free yourself from the anxiety, you must know how long does a panic attack lasts, how to help someone having a panic attack, how to stop a panic attack, and what to do during a panic attack. The best thing to do is not be afraid of it at all and let it pass.