Coping with Panic Attacks
Are you struggling with panic attacks and anxiety or stress in general?
I continue to refer clients to Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.’s 2005 book, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook because it has one of the best and most comprehensive chapters on preventing and treating panic attacks. Panic attacks are one of the SCARIEST experiences individuals can have in part because they may feel as if you are having a heart attack, losing your mind or losing consciousness, and a general feeling of being out of control.
“The good news is that you CAN learn to cope with panic attacks so well that they will no longer have the power to frighten you. Over time, you can actually diminish the intensity and frequency of panic attacks if you are willing to make some changes in your lifestyle.” (Bourne, 2005, p. 109)
Bourne also reassures readers that although panic attacks are frightening and uncomfortable, they are not dangerous.
As with other mental health issues, there is more than one effective way in preventing and treating panic attacks. Whichever path you take, discovering and committing to practicing self-help coping skills on a regular basis can empower you to realize your innate ability to heal yourself (in addition to receiving professional help).
What is a panic attack?
According to Bourne, “A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense fear and anxiety that can occur out of the blue or in response to encountering (or just thinking about) a phobic situation.”
Panic attacks can include the following:
• Bodily symptoms such as trembling, heart palpitations, tightening in the chest, shortness of breath, etc.
• Emotional reactions such as desire to run away, fears of going crazy, dying, being out of control, etc.
Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Decrease or Prevent Panic Attacks
- Regular practice of deep relaxation
- A regular program of exercise
- Elimination of stimulants (especially caffeine, sugar, & nicotine)
- Learning to acknowledge and express your feelings, especially anger and sadness
- Adopting self-talk and “core beliefs” which promote a calmer and more accepting attitude toward life
Top 3 Main Approaches to Deal with Oncoming Panic Symptoms
Exit the situation until your anxiety subsides and return when feeling better (vs. escaping or not returning to the situation since that can lead to increased fear)
Some examples would be to talk to another person, move around or engage in a physical activity, stay in the present, do something that requires focused concentration, do something pleasurable, practice thought stopping
Muscle relaxation and positive self-talk, along with sayings such as “I can handle this,” “This too shall pass.”
Change your Thoughts about Panic Attacks
- “A panic attack can be a very frightening and uncomfortable experience, but it is absolutely not dangerous. Panic is an entirely natural bodily reaction that simply occurs out of context” (Bourne, 2005, p. 110).
- Identify and then break the connection between body symptoms and catastrophic thoughts. (write down alternative explanations for body symptoms)
- Face the symptoms by floating with the “wave” of a panic attack, observe your body, allow time to pass.
- Explore the antecedents of your panic attacks in order to prevent them or plan how to cope with them
- Tell a friend, family member, and/or employer/teacher about your panic attacks in order to minimize the likelihood of having a panic attack in a large number of situations.