June 19, 2017

Anxiety 101: How to stop panic attacks in their tracks

Mindful Mondays Anxiety
06192017_panic_attack_iStock MilanMarkovic/iStock.com

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The majority of people will suffer from symptoms of anxiety in some way, shape or form, at some point in their life. For many people, this anxiety presents itself as nothing more than a feeling of moderate worry often referred to as “butterflies in the stomach.”

Others, however, can have much more severe responses to stress. In fact, the stronger your body’s response, the more likely you are to experience physical symptoms such as sweating, chills, feeling faint, hyperventilation, a choking sensation, wanting to cry; an overall feeling that you have lost control of your body. These symptoms often characterize what is commonly referred to as a panic attack.

Full-blown panic attacks can range anywhere from a few minutes up to 30 minutes. If you have ever suffered a panic attack, you know that 30 seconds is scary enough.

If you are prone to high-level anxiety, you must arm yourself with the tools to overcome the attack in the moment and, eventually, learn how to avoid the attack entirely.

Below are some helpful tricks you can use to pull yourself out of the grips of anxiety in the midst of a panic attack. With practice, you can gain control over your mind and body to stop these panic attacks in their tracks.

1. Tell someone around you.

Often times, you can feel an attack coming on, especially if you are prone to them. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you are in the middle of an attack to tell someone, because it can be almost impossible to communicate at that point. Verbalize what you are feeling before you are in the throes of it. “I think I am having a panic attack. Can you please get me some water and a cold cloth?” or if you are alone, try to carefully gather the tools that will help you through the episode. (Glass of water, paper bag, cold cloth, ice, etc.)

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Breathing into a paper bag can counter the effects of “overbreathing” during a panic attack.

2. Breathe.

One of the first things you must do when a panic attack sets in is to get control of your breathing. When you are hyperventilating, you are exhaling too much. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm and try to focus. Re-breathing the air you have just exhaled is long considered to be helpful as it is thought to recycle the carbon dioxide that dips in blood levels during hyperventilation. Try breathing into a paper bag or even into your own hands at the onset of an attack.

3. Sit down and put your head between your knees.

If you are feeling faint or dizzy, sit down and put your head between your knees to get the blood flowing to your head. Continue to breathe. If you still feel faint, get on the ground (or on a bed if you can) to avoid injury from falling if you do faint. Remember, this is a physiological response and will be over in a few minutes.

4. Remind yourself that panic attacks are HARMLESS.

Panic attacks are so scary that they make you feel like you might be dying. It is important to remember that the actual physical response is completely harmless, and is simply your body’s response to fear. Drink water, put a cold compress on your forehead or back of your neck, continue to breathe and remind yourself in the moment that this feeling will pass and know that you will soon be OK.

5. Identify your triggers.

Eventually, your body begins to relax and the intense feelings begin to pass. Continue to hydrate, relax and breathe. Examine your triggers, and ask yourself “what brought on this attack?” As with anything, the only real way to overcome the problem is to identify the root cause. What have you learned from this experience and how can you avoid going down this road in the future?

Remember, there is nothing wrong with you; you must simply learn to manage your body’s response to stress. It is possible for you to gain control of your body and mind through mindfulness techniques. Being self-aware is at the core of a mindfulness practice, so even if you are not the meditating type, a profound understanding of yourself can help you overcome challenges such as panic attacks.

I hope you find this information as helpful as I have.