What Is A Panic Attack?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders describes panic attacks as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four or more of the following symptoms occur: accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, feeling short of breath, chest pain or discomfort, nausea, light-headed, chills or feeling flushed, numbness or tingling sensations, feeling detached from oneself, feelings of losing control, fear of dying.”

Panic attacks can be expected or unexpected.  Expected panic attacks usually have a trigger where the individual is aware that he or she may come in contact with a fearful situation or event, i.e., an enclosed space or a public performance.  Unexpected panic attacks appear to come from nowhere often causing individuals to seek emergency care out of fear that they are having a more serious health event.  Unexpected panic attacks often leads to increased anticipation for when the next panic attack may strike.

How To Manage A Panic Attack

Breathing

Most panic attacks are accompanied by fast, shallow breathing ,which leads to symptoms of light-headedness and tingling throughout your extremities.

  • Take a nice deep breath, in though your nose to the count of five.  Make sure you’re “breathing from your belly” and filling you lungs from the bottom up.  Expel the breath from you mouth to another count of five.  Continue this for 8-10 cycles.

Muscle Relaxation

  • Sit or even lie down and begin to slowly tense and relax all the muscle groups of the body.  Start at your toes and squeeze to the point of slight discomfort and then relax.  Do this three times before moving up to your calves, thighs, buttocks, etc.

Ground Yourself

  • Grounding is a way to reconnect with the present moment.  Look around and start naming things you can observe; objects, colors, shapes, etc.  Use your five senses to recognize the hear and now rather than the worries and other thoughts of fear in your head.  You can also list your favorite movies, musicians or actors, etc.

Panic attacks can be debilitating.  The more power you give to panic and anxiety, the the stronger they will grow.  The key is to not allow your thoughts and fear to have any more control or continue to “rent space in your head.”  As always, seek professional help if you feel that your panic and anxiety is unmanageable or seriously impacting your ability to function.

 

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