The first time you have a panic attack, it can be terrifying. But so can the next one, and the next.
Panic attacks, by definition, are unexpected episodes of fear so intense it becomes physical. The pain can feel like a heart attack, or you could be struggling to breathe.
Whatever the symptoms are, it’s scary, and you feel out of control of your own body. One or two panic attacks spread out throughout a lifetime is normal. However, some people have “panic disorder,” a condition where these attacks recur unexpectedly.
If you live with panic disorder, you’re constantly worrying about when the next attack will show up. This fear can spread into daily life, making it hard to enjoy what you’re doing. Knowing the signs of a panic attack and these tips to stop it in its tracks puts you back in control of your mind and body.
1. Recognize the Physical Signs
Your body is unique, and your panic attack symptoms will be, too. One of the positives is that most people have the same type of symptoms with each episode. Recognizing your body and what the little signs mean helps you catch an attack before it happens.
Physicians see patients who think they’re having a heart attack or a stroke when they’re actually in the grips of a panic attack. The symptoms are quite similar, including:
• Shortness of breath/feeling like you’re choking
• Increased or erratic heart rate
• Chest pain
• Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or nausea
• Sweating, chills, and/or hot flashes
Your attacks could start out as one or all of these or something else entirely. The trick is to pay attention to how you felt before you realized it was a panic attack and watch for those signs.
Panic or Heart Attack?
On the other hand, these are all legitimate symptoms of a heart attack, as well. The time you spend debating on whether it’s a heart or panic attack could be the precious seconds you needed to get help.
As soon as you think the symptoms are cardiac-related, call 911 or a local emergency number. Take an aspirin, preferably chewing it to get it in your bloodstream faster. If you’re on any prescribed nitroglycerin tablets, take those, as well.
Don’t be afraid to head to the emergency room to let them decide what your diagnosis is. The doctors there are used to seeing patients who think they’re having a heart attack, when it’s actually stress. They’ll be able to help and point you in the right direction either way.
2. Get in Tune With Your Emotions
We’re taught to shake off irritability, sadness, and other “bad” feelings. Pretending they’re not there doesn’t make them go away. Your body is still collecting the stress hormones and adrenaline these emotions bring.
Before a panic attack, your psychological symptoms can warn you there’s danger ahead.
How to Know Your State of Mind
When you think you’re starting to feel the physical signs, ask yourself these questions:
• Are you dealing with any stressful situations?
• Do you feel afraid of anything, or do you have a sense of doom or dread for no apparent reason?
• Does it seem like you’re out of control of your life?
• Is your mind trying to convince you that you’re “going crazy”?
• Are you at the other extreme, completely detached from anything going on in your life or the world?
If any of these questions have “yes” answers, you’re in the prime mental state for a panic attack. Move forward to the next step and start some grounding techniques to calm your body.
3. Use Some Tried-and-True Remedies
As soon as you realize what’s going on with your body, try to take control back calmly. It can be hard, especially if you think you’re about to die because of the symptoms.
When you’re ready, use any or all of these in-the-moment methods to halt the attack.
Slow Your Breathing
Hyperventilating is a vicious cycle with panic attacks. The faster you breathe, the more your body responds as though it’s in danger.
Try some of these breathing techniques and find the one that works for you in the heat of the moment.
Close your eyes. Sometimes, panic attacks get worse with too much visual stimulation.
With your eyes closed, imagine a place that makes you happy. Fill the scene with as many objects as you need to add until you are calm again.
Have an Affirmation Ready and Repeat It
Mantras, or affirmations, are very short phrases that have two purposes.
First, they remind you that you’re in control, and this current problem isn’t forever. Second, they distract your brain from sending out buckets of cortisol and adrenaline to your body.
“This too shall pass” is a popular mantra. If it doesn’t work for you, use these examples or create your own.
Use Preventative Methods
Medications and natural remedies can prevent or stop panic attacks.
Panic disorder can control your life if you’re always wondering when the next episode will occur. With a little help from some of these preventative methods, you can stop living in fear:
• Cannabis: One of the approved uses of medical marijuana is anxiety, as Veriheal points out in this article.
• Benzodiazepines: Xanax and other controlled substances are FDA-approved to treat panic attacks. However, unlike cannabis, these carry a heavy risk of addiction.
• Natural herbs and supplements: Certain plants and minerals have stress-relieving properties. Keep some chamomile or lavender tea or essential oils nearby and use them when you feel stressed. • Breathe the fragrance in, drink the herb, or use it topically.
Talk to your doctor before you start any preventative remedies to make sure they don’t interfere with other medications or health conditions.
Feeling out of control is never a good thing, and it can spiral a panic attack even further.
You don’t want to have panic disorder, but if you do, there are some things you can do to master the next episode you have. Use these tips to stop the attack before it has a chance to take over your body and mind.