Panic attacks can be an overwhelming and debilitating experience that can impair an individual’s daily functioning. Fortunately, there are solutions available to aid in tackling these attacks and managing them without the need for medication. In this article, we will be exploring different self-help strategies and calming techniques to help those experiencing panic attacks and help them gain more control over their lives.
Demystifying Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are intense fear-based reactions that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. People can experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. A person may also experience intense feelings of dread and impending doom. Panic attacks can happen without warning and can be very distressing. It is important to remember that panic attacks are a real, physiological phenomenon and not evidence of madness or lack of control.
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be difficult to recognize and distinguish from other health issues as they often present with a broad range of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of panic attacks include:
- Intense fear or discomfort
- Shortness of breath or smothering sensation
- Heart palpitations or an accelerated heart rate
- Trembling and shaking
- Feeling of choking or being unable to breathe
- Sweating and flushing
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea, abdominal cramping, chest pain
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady or faint
- Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy
- Numbness and tingling sensations
Recognize Panic Attacks
People often misidentify the signs of a panic attack as evidence of a medical condition such as a heart attack or some other serious ailment. It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a panic attack and accept them as a normal part of your emotional landscape.
Self-Help Solutions: Managing Without Medication
Luckily, there are numerous resources available to support individuals when it comes to tackling panic attacks without relying on medication. Here are some self-help tips to manage anxiety and cope with panic attacks:
Establish a Routine
Having a well-structured routine can help manage stress and keep anxiety levels in check. Make sure to include some leisure activities in your day which you find enjoyable and facilitate relaxation. Additionally, it is a good idea to stick to a regular sleep schedule & try to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Limit Alcohol and Substance Use
Drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking recreational drugs can temporarily help to lower feelings of anxiety but they are only short term solutions to a larger problem and don’t solve the root of the issue. Ultimately, these can further complicate your troubles and make dealing with panic attacks even more difficult.
Make Time for Relaxation Activities
Look for activities that you can do which help to lower your stress levels and ground yourself in the moment. Engaging in mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help reduce tension and bring comfort when dealing with a panic attack.
Avoid Caffeine & Sugary Drinks
Caffeinated beverages and sweetened drinks can trigger anxiety and panic attacks in some people. Eliminating or reducing your intake of stimulants such as caffeine can prevent your anxiety levels from escalating.
Acknowledge the Feelings of Panic
It can be difficult to confront your feelings when feeling anxious and overwhelmed, but it is important to start recognizing the feelings of fear and panic as they come. Identifying the feeling of panic and understanding it does not have to have a grip on you, can be a great help in helping to deal with it. Allow yourself to acknowledge the feeling and make a note that it will pass.
Accept Where You Are
When having a panic attack, focus on accepting where you are in the moment. Try to ground yourself in your senses and take time to notice the environment around you. This can help to bring your focus away from negative and anxious thoughts and back to the present.
Reframe Your Thoughts
Often, negative and irrational thoughts can compound panic attack symptoms. It is important to recognize these thoughts and try to reframe them in a more positive way. This will help to reduce the power of intense feelings and allow logic and reason to take its place.
Re-Attune to your Body
Tuning in and working with the body can be very helpful in dealing with panic. It gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the physical consequences of stress and anxiety.
Practicing deep, slow slow belly breathing can help to increase your body’s production of soothing hormones and decrease adrenaline. Inhale slowly through your nose, then exhale slowly out of your mouth.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique used to release tension in the body. It involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group one by one. Start at your toes and slowly move up to your head, focusing on each area for about five seconds before releasing the tension and focusing on the body’s relaxation muscles.
Mindful movement is an effective way to calm the mind and recentre yourself in the present. This could include activities such as walking, swimming, tai chi or gentle yoga. The focus should be to simply take in the experience and focus on the feelings in your body, as this can help to reduce feelings of fear and panic.
Counteracting Panic: Engaging in Calming Techniques
It can be helpful to engage in calming techniques when feeling anxious and overwhelmed. These techniques can be used before, during and after a panic attack to reduce symptoms and increase the ability to cope.
Grounding techniques are helpful for bringing a person’s focus away from anxious, intrusive thoughts and back to the present. Establish five key senses to hold onto during a panic attack – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Repeat the environment and places in your mind, “I am here, I am safe”.
Art therapy is a powerful tool for releasing emotions through creativity. Drawing or painting can help to ground the mind and bring peace during a moment of distress. It allows individuals to express how they are feeling in a unique way and practice mindfulness.
Mindful noting helps to reduce intrusive thoughts by putting them into perspective. Identify the thoughts and feelings as they come and note them in a funny or non-threatening way. For example, “Wow, there’s my heart beating like crazy, I’m feeling a little panicked right now”.
Noticing What Triggers Panic Attacks
Try to start identifying the triggers that result in panic attacks and make a mental note whenever one arises. This can be anything from certain people, places, or situations which can cause elevated levels of anxiety.
Keeping a journal can help to track the frequency and symptoms of a panic attack as well as any potential triggers. Writing down thoughts and feelings related to the experience also gives individuals a safe environment to express their emotions in a non-judgmental way.
Identify Coping Skills
It can be helpful to note the strategies that help you to find relief from panic attack symptoms. Examples of coping skills include:
- Deep breathing
- Creative visualization
- Positive affirmations
- Prayer/spiritual practices
Cultivating a Supportive Ecosystem
Having a strong support system is essential for managing panic attacks.
Reaching out to Friends & Family
Talking to friends and family members who you trust can be a great help. Give them an idea of what panic attacks look and feel like, so they are better equipped with the resources and understanding to offer support.
Look Into Support Groups
Online support groups can provide individuals with an opportunity to connect with people who are also struggling with similar issues. It can help to seek advice and understanding from peers and professionals and hear of different ways to manage panic attacks.
It is important to remember that anxiety affects people in different ways and seeking professional advice from a healthcare provider or counsellor can be beneficial. Professional advice can help to respond to and manage the symptoms of panic attacks and provide additional resources to aid in reducing anxiety levels.
Embracing Hope to Conquer Panic
It is important to hold onto hope that things can get better and that managing panic attacks is possible without medication. There is a range of strategies available to help individuals cope and regain control of their lives.
Recognise Your Strengths & Your Progress
It is important to recognise the progress you have made and the skills you have acquired when it comes to coping with anxiety and panic. Take the time to recognize these strengths and celebrate them, no matter how big or small.
Find Professional Resource
For some, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Online programs and apps can also offer additional support and guidance through the recovery process.
Remain Patient & Have Faith
Understand that recovery takes time and not to be too hard on yourself if progress is slow. Have faith in yourself and try to remain patient in knowing that it does get better.
Tackling panic attacks can seem like an impossible feat, but it is possible to manage without medication. Having the correct resources and support can make the journey to recovery a lot easier. By utilizing a range of self-help techniques, engaging in calming techniques and creating a supportive ecosystem, panic attacks can become less frequent and more manageable.