How to deal with a panic attack

Anxiety is something that we all experience at various points in our life. Although it is an uncomfortable and, for some, terrifying experience, anxiety actually has an essential function – to keep us safe. 12th July 2020 by Paul Milham

Years ago, when we were primitive men and women, our brains’ primary function was to protect us from danger, such as predators and wild animals. If we encountered such a threat, our brain’s ‘Amygdala,’ the panic alarm, kicked in. It flushed our bodies and tensed our muscles in preparation to run. This ‘flight’ mode was beneficial, and it still is useful in modern times when facing danger. It is not so helpful, however, when you suffer from long term stress and anxiety. It is not useful when there is actually no real danger to face. This prolonged hyper-alert mode can be stressful for both the body

Panic Attacks

When anxiety occurs in a situation when there is no danger, and the symptoms begin to escalate, this can lead to a panic attack. A panic attack is a very frightening experience, characterised by:

  • Immense fear or terror that often begins with no, or little, warning.
  • A period of about five to ten minutes of very intense feelings, leaving the sufferer to feel drained afterward.
  • Physical symptoms including feelings of suffocation, faintness and nausea. Often these feelings can be similar to that of a heart attack. Often these feelings lead to more considerable panic.

But panic attacks are actually quite common. It is estimated that one in ten of us will experience a panic attack in our lives.

If you are suffering from panic attacks, here are some ways to help reduce, limit, and, even, eradicate these symptoms once and for all.

1 – Logic away your thoughts

Often, when you suffer from a panic attack, you get yourself stuck in a loop. The negativity and catastrophic feelings create physical sensations, such as difficulty breathing or chest pains. When we experience these physical sensations, it can often cause fear, terror and more catastrophic feelings that keep the cycle of panic going.

If we can change our thought patterns, we can break this cycle. For example, if you feel like you are having a heart attack, ask yourself, ‘Did I have a heart attack the last time I felt like this?’ If you feel like you are going to vomit, ask yourself, ‘Did I vomit before?’ By taking a step back from your feelings, and applying logic to the thoughts that you are having, you can quickly break the cycle and reduce the escalation of symptoms.

2 – Distract yourself

When you suffer from a panic attack, you can become so obsessed with anxiety that you become consumed by it. This can contribute to an escalation of the physical sensations. Rather than focus on the negative thoughts and feelings, stop for a second… look around you. Look at what is going on around you? Notice your senses. What do you see? Or smell? Or hear?

During a panic attack, your mind is in tunnel vision. Paying attention to the experience of all five senses can help remove you from that negative state and distract your anxious brain.

3 – Control your breathing

When suffering from a panic attack, try to sit down somewhere, calmly, and focus on your breathing. Nothing else, but your breath… in and out. Do and achieve nice, long, five-second breaths in, and then out. Place your hands on your chest and stomach to really focus your mind. Imagine your lungs and stomach filling with air. Breathing is one of the constants that we have. It centralises our bodies. It is rhythmic and calming. It is tough to panic when you are focused on something so tranquil, like your breath.

4 – Gentle exposure

If you suffer a stressful panic attacks, it can be a natural instinct to avoid the place and situation in which it happened. You may be worried that it may happen again. Although there will now be triggers in that situation, by avoiding it altogether, you are reinforcing a belief that this situation is ‘scary.’ You strengthen the associations you have of panic and stress.

To avoid this, you can gently expose yourself to that situation again. For example, if you always suffer panic attacks in the supermarket, start by sitting outside the supermarket in your car. Use techniques 1 to 3 to reduce your anxiety. Try to stay as long as possible so that any fear symptoms gradually subside. Maybe in the next couple of days, you could try this technique again, but this time, go up to the entrance or into the coffee shop.

Over time, you are training your brain that there is, actually, nothing really to be afraid of as you become more and more accustomed to that, once, scary situation.

Hypnosis for panic attacks

Hypnotherapy can be a powerful therapeutic tool that can assist in breaking the cycle of panic attacks. This is because:

  • The repetition of weekly ‘trance’ sessions help to train your body to relax more easily.
  • Hypnotherapy helps to empty your ‘stress bucket.’ This gives you more spare capacity to cope with the problems of everyday life. In turn, this can reduce the need for your brain to panic.
  • Hypnotherapy trains your brain to work in the intellectual rather than the anxiety-creating primitive emotional mind where panic attacks emanate.

If you would like to find out more, I offer a free initial consultation (either via zoom or in-person).

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