How to deal with panic attacks – tips & techniques
Not every technique will help everyone that experiences panic attacks, and we certainly don’t want to overwhelm you with a dozen things to remember while your head is spinning. However, if just one or two of these tips sound like they might connect with you, then maybe you can keep them in your toolkit in the event of an attack:
Have something helpful handy
By its very nature, a panic attack is overwhelming and it can feel impossible to take a moment to remember and implement tips and techniques. That’s why it can be useful to have something handy to use or refer to when panic takes hold. A phone can allow you to contact a trusted friend or access a familiar podcast or app that you know to be helpful. Even a hand written note or list can be a godsend when panic is preventing you from recalling helpful tips.
Realising what is happening to you
The first step to tackling a panic attack is to realise that you are having a panic attack. Once the conscious mind is aware of what’s happening, it opens us up to understanding and rationalising the situation and coming to realise that the experience is not likely to be long lasting – which bring us on to…
This will pass
This is important to remember, although it’s tough to appreciate at the time. A panic attack won’t last forever – simply remembering this fact can be enough to pull you out of the turbulent confusion you might be experiencing. It can help you to begin to regain perspective and recover from the attack. If “this will pass” is not a phrase that resonates strongly with you, you may find other powerful words that express this in a way that connects with you. Try repeating them as a mantra as a way to help you appreciate that the panic attack is only temporary – it may help it to subside.
It’s not your fault
This is another fact that’s useful to remember. You didn’t ask to feel this way. Self-blame is not only inaccurate, it’s unhelpful. Feeling bad about feeling bad is another one of those feedback loops that we do well to avoid.
Panic attacks are characterised by feelings of a lack of control, so efforts to regain control are a good way to bring the attack to a close. Regaining control of our breathing rate is particularly helpful, as it will help with other physical symptoms like tension and a pounding heart. Again, this is easier said than done when you are in the throes of an attack, but if you learn a specific technique, even one as simple as taking slow, deep breaths, counting to 4 or 5 as you inhale and exhale, you may find it easier to regain control.
In addition to calming the breathing, we can also use techniques that help reduce tension by relaxing the muscles. There are various techniques that involve picturing yourself in relaxing surroundings or relaxing muscles one by one. These “visualisation” and “progressive relaxation” methods can help you to take control of your body’s responses. Regular practice will help you to get better at using these techniques. For this and other panic attack help techniques, you can check out our online course here.
The regular practice of mindful meditation can help reduce frequency and intensity of attacks, but in the event of an attack, mindfulness techniques can be employed too. If you have a mindfulness routine, try to bring it into practice during an attack as this can help to focus the attention and reconnect you with the here and now. To learn more about this useful technique, check out Therapy For You’s online treatment course about mindfulness.
Select something to focus on
During an attack we can feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on around us, and our thoughts can fly off in every direction. Picking an object in plain sight and focusing our attention on it can help us to cut out excessive stimulation from our surroundings and settle or thoughts in one place.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
Another great focussing exercise is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Look around you. Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Going through these lists systematically can help to ground you and regain control of your thoughts and feelings.
For further advice on techniques that offer panic attack help, you can check out our online course here.