Article By Dr Lynda Shaw
At least one person in 10 experiences occasional panic attacks, which are usually triggered by a stressful event. In the UK, approximately one person in 100 has a panic disorder. Panic attacks are very common and can be triggered by all manner of things, which also means they can sometimes come on quite unexpectedly.
Research shows that changes in the brain correlate with the severity of a panic attack, but the good news is that treatment for panic disorders and anxiety are very effective.
Tips to help you through a panic attack
When you are about to suffer a panic attack two different things can be done, if you are in a position to prevent the panic attack there are methods and calming techniques to help you do this. If the panic attack has already started, then there are also tips to help you through it as quickly as possible.
First you need to ask what is causing your panic attack and try to tackle it head on. Is it a fear of failing at work or is it based around your interaction with certain groups of people? Or is it based on a phobia? Whatever it is, ask yourself, why are you so afraid? What’s the worst that could happen? Express your concerns to someone you trust and have an open conversation about your feelings. By simply explaining how you feel, you can begin to understand how and why you’re reacting in such an anxious way.
When you begin to feel an on-coming panic attack it is vital that you take control of the situation as best you can. Sit down, and take slow, deep breaths. Breathing exercises will relax your body, which is the first step to reversing the release of adrenaline. When you begin to feel the onset of a panic attack, rationalise to yourself what is physically happening to you. Tell yourself that its just adrenaline increasing in your brain, and if you take control of it, it will stop. This will remind you that it is you who is in charge of your body and how it reacts.
One aspect which can intensify a panic attack is your anxiety or embarrassment about having it in public place, such as work. This increases anxious feelings, as you begin to panic about having a panic attack. While at work, it is important to be very open about it, and inform your colleagues of the best way to help you through it, don’t run away to be in private because your brain will form an association between your running away from the situation and your panic. Once this happens, your workplace or the wherever you suffered the attack, could become a stimulus for future panic attacks. If you panic but stay in the situation until you calm down, your panic response will learn that it’s not the situation causing the panic. This will also help you to identify the underlying issue to the panic attack.
Open and honest dialogue is the best way to combat the underlying reason for your panic. It is all too easy to keep an issue which is concerning you to yourself, allowing it to bombard your thoughts and in-turn, work you up, as you are in a constant battle with yourself. If you disclose what is upsetting you to someone, whether a family member, colleague, friend or professional you immediately begin the process of resolving the issue. Saying it out loud identifies what’s bothering you, and sharing it with another person is the start of fixing it.
During times of panic, we are evolutionary designed to think less, in order to give all of our resources to our body to fight. If you participate in some methodological thinking, such as counting down from 500 in fives (500, 495, 490 etc…), describing your right shoe in military detail, or doing a crossword, you force your brain to re-engage with you, which dilutes the panic response. It is also really important not to let a panic attack dominate your day, ask those around you to pretend like it didn’t happen, and if people ask how you are, respond positively. Panic attacks should not be internalised to cast a shadow over your mood. Moving onwards and upwards, you are not giving them any power over you, and you remain in control.
It is also entirely reasonable to have a panic attack when you have had a shock. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves these days, and sometimes we are just overwhelmed into doing something we don’t want to do.
If your attacks remain constant and dominate your life, you must see your doctor. They can provide you with medical advice, which deals directly with what you’re going through. Never under-estimate or belittle your feelings, it will always help to seek advice.