Panic attacks are usually initiated by a triggering thought or collection of thoughts that are anxiety-provoking in nature. These thoughts then cause an overly exaggerated anxiety response in the body (choking sensations, dizziness, tightness, tingling, etc). These physical sensations are then often misinterpreted as serious physical problems or are perceived as being a sign that the person is losing control and might end up getting hurt, hurting someone else, or causing an embarrassing situation in public.
Panic attacks can come on suddenly and seemingly with no explanation or reason. Follow these easy steps to increase your coping with panic attacks.
1. Go to the doctor. Tell the doctor about the physical symptoms and sensations you are experiencing that you think are panic attack symptoms.
2. As soon as you start experiencing symptoms of a panic attack, tell yourself “This is just anxiety and it cannot hurt me. This is not a serious medical condition. I’m going to be ok and I’m NOT going to go crazy.” Often times panic attacks begin as physical sensations such as the following:
- Tingling sensations in any part of the body, particularly in the hands and arms, often mistaken for signs of stroke or heart attack.
- Shortness of breath, tight chest muscles, pain in the chest.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness to the point where you feel you might faint.
- Fuzzy vision, racing heart, feeling that you are not real or that you are in a movie.
This is why it is most important to get a check up, and explain to the doctor the nature of your physical sensations during a panic attack; to rule out medical causes. Once you have done this, you will be able to trust your own words here that you are going to be ok.
3. Get to a quiet, safe place where you can be alone or with a friend you trust. Inhale deeply, hold your breath for 5-7 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Inhale deeply again, and as you do so, tighten the muscles of your arms and make a fist. Hold your breath for 5-7 seconds again, and as you exhale slowly, release the tension in your arms, open your fists. Do this at least 5 times. Tensing and releasing a muscle will cause it to automatically relax. Much of why panic attacks occur has to do with anxiety in the body. Your brain often misinterprets your body’s exaggerated anxiety response as real anxiety, and a signal that something is really wrong. From there the anxiety escalates both physically and psychologically and a panic attack happens. Tensing and relaxing your muscles while deep breathing addresses the anxiety in your body.
© Copyright 2011 by Negar Khaefi, MFT, therapist in Los Angeles, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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