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What to Do When A Panic Attack Strikes

There it is…that dreaded feeling again. You notice that your heart is racing, you feel like there is a pit in your stomach, you are short of breath, and you feel dizzy. You are experiencing a panic attack. Panic attacks can be downright frightening, especially if you don’t know exactly what you are experiencing. Panic attacks can even feel as though you are having a heart attack.


A panic attack can be defined as a sudden and temporary onset of panic and intense fear that can manifest physical symptoms. Panic attacks can be triggered by significant life stressors including job loss, relationship break-ups, financial stress, and more. Panic attacks may also manifest even when there is no apparent trigger that can be identified. Symptoms of a panic attack include shortness of breath, chest pain, a sense of impending doom, rapid heart rate, sweating, abdominal cramps, dizziness, trembling, and more. The symptoms of a panic attack typically peak in intensity after roughly 10 minutes and will begin to subside over time. 


Panic attacks are not necessarily inherently dangerous. However, repeated panic attacks can have a significant negative impact on your mental well-being and overall quality of life. Wondering how you can deal with panic attacks? Read along for tips on how to navigate and cope with panic attacks when they arise.


1. Recognize the warning signs

To understand how to cope with panic attacks, it is incredibly helpful to be able to identify the warning signs of when a panic attack is coming. Take note of what physical sensations you experience during panic attacks, what thoughts run through your mind, and identify what triggers exist for you so that you can arm yourself before being faced with these triggers. You may not be able to stop the panic attack in its tracks by recognizing the warning signs, but you can utilize different skills to help yourself navigate through the physical sensations and thoughts that arise during the panic attack if you can take note of the warning signs and implement the tools necessary.


2. Use grounding techniques and deep breathing skills

Focus on your five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hear) to bring yourself back to the here-and-now present moment. Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground, the feeling of the sun on your skin, the smells you can note in the air around you, or the objects you can see. Check out this worksheet to learn more about the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.

Practice taking slow, deep, and purposeful breaths inhaling through your nostrils and exhaling slowly and controlled through your mouth. Research has shown that deep breathing can lower cortisol levels in your body and trigger the relaxation response to calm your nervous system. Check out this worksheet to find helpful tips on the deep belly breathing skill. Apps like iBreathe and Breathwrk can help you keep time and walk you through the skill while practicing deep breathing.


3. Utilize affirmations

As you practice breathing and grounding skills, you can take time to remind yourself that panic attacks are temporary and not life-threatening. Utilize affirmations such as “I can handle this”, “I am safe”, or “This will pass.” to help ground yourself and reframe your thinking. You can either create your affirmations or draw from movies or music you enjoy to find affirmations that will truly resonate with you.


4. Lean on your support system

Reach out to someone that you trust, like a friend, partner, or family member, about what you are experiencing. They can provide comfort, reassurance, and understanding during a panic attack. Educate your support system on helpful grounding skills, if they are open to it, so that they can help prompt you to use these skills during a panic attack. 


5. Seek professional support

If you find that panic attacks are affecting your quality of life or keeping you from engaging in day-to-day life activities, it may be time to reach out for professional help. Seeking professional help can provide you with additional coping strategies and support. A licensed therapist can help you explore the root causes of your panic attacks and develop personalized techniques to manage them. 


Remember, coping skills are not necessarily a one-size fits all. It is important to find what works best for you and to be patient with yourself as you learn to cope with panic attacks. If you need support, our counselors here at Natural Balance Counseling are ready to walk alongside you. Reach out today to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see which of our counselors would be the best fit for you.