The symptoms of a panic attack can come on quickly and affect the body and the mind. Your heart races, your breath quickens, and you feel confused, scared, and out of control of yourself and your surroundings.
Despite an overwhelming feeling that there is something wrong with you physically or mentally, panic attacks are not dangerous. Most people will experience a panic attack in their lifetime.
When a panic attack strikes, you may feel unsure of how to respond other than with fear and anxiety. There are things you can do to make yourself feel better:
- Reassure yourself that this will all be over very soon and that anxiety is not dangerous. Most panic attacks peak within a few minutes.
- Remind yourself that you will not lose control, go crazy, or die as a result of this panic attack. The scary symptoms of a panic attack are your body's way of trying to respond to a conscious or unconscious fear or threat.
- Calm yourself and ease shortness of breath with pursed-lip breathing. Inhale through your nose for 2 counts, feeling your belly fill with breath, and pucker your lips and blow out for 4 counts.
- Resist the urge to escape or avoid. Often people will fear having another panic attack and will begin avoiding places or situations similar to those in which the initial panic attack occurred. They may also leave situations if they notice a sensation similar to one they experienced while having a panic attack. Avoidance and escape will only maintain anxiety over the long term. Try to stay in the situation until the anxiety subsides on its own.
It's not just people diagnosed with panic disorder who experience panic attacks - they can happen to anyone. Whether or not you've been diagnosed with panic disorder, your goal should be to confront your panic attack triggers in a gradual fashion to ensure that anxiety is not maintained in the long term. Making lifestyle changes that promote relaxation and stress management can also help to reduce the occurrence of panic attacks.
If you experience recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and become overly concerned and preoccupied with anxiety about having another panic attack, you may have a panic disorder. Do not hesitate to speak to your doctor about your symptoms.