The experience of having a panic attack is truly terrifying. The intense physical sensations never fail to convince you that something is terribly wrong, that you must be having a heart attack or dying. When you feel like you’re losing control and are overwhelmed by impending doom, it can be extremely difficult to take a step back, recognize what’s happening, and remind yourself that you are going to be okay. This article will explore how to identify a panic attack when it’s occurring, and what you can say to yourself in the midst of distressing symptoms.
Recognizing the Signs of a Panic Attack
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming rise in mental health concerns such as anxiety. Recognizing how anxiety and panic manifests in the body is crucial to being able to cope during times of overwhelming fear.
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that are accompanied by intense physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating or chills, nausea, trembling or shaking, and feelings of losing control. It is important to note that a panic attack can occur in times of anxiety as well as times of calm. Sometimes, panic symptoms emerge suddenly and unexpectedly.
Recurring panic attacks, as well as fear about when the next panic attack may occur are characteristics of panic disorder. However, panic attacks can occur in the context of other mental health conditions such as social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, or obsessive compulsive disorder when faced with a feared situation. Click here for information about various mental health disorders and their symptoms.
5 Things to Tell Yourself During a Panic Attack
- “This is a panic attack. I am uncomfortable but not in danger.”
When a panic attack emerges, the first step is to call it for what it is. Acknowledge that your symptoms are occurring due to anxiety. As unpleasant and intense as your physical sensations get, remind yourself that they are not harmful, and you are going to be okay.
- “I am safe.”
To bring yourself back into the present moment, try repeating a mantra such as ‘I am safe’ or practicing grounding techniques. One helpful grounding technique is called the 5-4-3-2-1 method, where you identify five things you hear, four things you can touch, three things you hear, two things you can smell and one thing you taste.
During a panic attack, it is common to hyperventilate (breathe rapidly and deeply) which can lead to feelings of breathlessness. Focus on regaining control of your breathing, by slowly inhaling and exhaling while counting to five.
- “These feelings are temporary and will pass.”
Instead of desperately trying to stop a panic attack, allow the anxiety to move through you. Remind yourself that these uncomfortable feelings will pass as they always do. Most panic attacks start to subside after anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour.
5. “I am not alone.”
Tell yourself that you do not have to go through this alone, that there is help and support available. Calling a trusted friend or family member in times of panic can be beneficial, as they can be there to remind you that you are going to get through this.
Seeking Professional Support for Panic Attacks
If you are experiencing recurring panic attacks and/or experiencing fear about the potential of a panic attack occurring, seek out the support of a mental health professional. They can help you establish a treatment plan and develop strategies for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.