Panic Attack

How To Survive Through Panic Attacks and Overcome Them For Good

anxiety

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Written by Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

07 Jul, 2022

Picture this: It’s a Friday night, and you’re enjoying dinner with friends. Suddenly, out of nowhere, your heart begins to pound, and there’s a weight upon your chest. You try your hardest to hide what's happening on the inside, but your mind convinces you you’re dying as you struggle to breathe.

Does that scenario sound familiar? If so, you may be struggling with panic attacks. 

Panic attacks can strike unannounced, leaving you feeling paralyzed and helpless for up to an hour. So, what causes this terrifying phenomenon, and what can you do about it? 

Let’s talk about what panic attacks are, and the ways you can overcome them for good. 

What Are Panic Attacks?

Up to 40% of the Australian population will experience a panic attack at some point in their life. While common, many people don’t understand the signs or symptoms well enough to understand what’s happening when they strike. 

Panic attacks are sudden, intense episodes of anxiety that provoke physical symptoms of extreme fear. Symptoms of a panic attack may look like this:

  • Rapid heart rate 

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Hot or cold flashes

  • Feeling choked 

  • Increased sweating 

  • Dizziness 

  • An overall sense of panic or fear 

  • Trembling 

  • Muscle tension 

  • Fear of dying or losing control 

Panic attacks are debilitating, and often cause an experience of something called “derealization”. Derealization, feeling a sense that you or the world around you isn't real, can make symptoms of a panic attack even worse. 

What Causes Panic Attacks?

As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of panic attacks is not yet known. There are many triggers or reasons they occur, however. 

A few of these consist of:

  • Family history 

  • Medical conditions (hyperthyroidism, asthma, heart arrhythmias)

  • Long periods of stress

  • Excessive caffeine intake 

  • Childhood abuse 

  • Sudden changes in the environment 

  • Physical illness 

Just because a family member has struggled with panic attacks does not mean you’re destined to struggle with them as well. However, those who have close relatives with panic-related disorders are far more likely to experience them. In addition, panic attacks are often caused by a combination of these factors, rather than one singular event. 

How Do You Work Through a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks can be treated in the moment with self-care tactics, and overcome in the long run through medication or assistance from a mental health professional. If you aren’t ready to visit a therapist yet, or you dislike taking medication there are a few ways you can work through a panic attack yourself:

  • Avoid focusing on your symptoms. While this may sound redundant, the more you focus on how you’re feeling, the worse it can become. 

  • Harsh self-talk, such as telling yourself to “just relax!” can be harmful and make the moment worse. Instead, positive self-talk has been shown to reduce symptoms of panic attacks in the moment. Try affirmations instead:

    • “I am not controlled by my panic attacks.”

    • “I am better than my panic attack.”

    • “I will not die, this will go away soon.”

  • Remind yourself that despite the symptoms being uncomfortable and downright scary, nobody has ever died from a panic attack before. While the symptoms can mimic a heart attack, they will pass. 

  • Focus on something outside of your body. This can not only distract you from your symptoms but allow you to feel grounded. Try using the 333 rule:

    • Name 3 things you see 

    • Name 3 things you hear 

    • Move 3 parts of your body 

  • Practice breathing exercises during your panic attack. Breathwork has been shown to calm the nervous system and deactivate your fight or flight response.

    • Inhale through your nose as deep and gentle as possible. 

    • Hold to a count of 4 

    • Exhale through your mouth, pushing as much air through your diaphragm as you can. 

Working through panic attacks on your own can be difficult and take time. Please have patience with yourself, it may not come naturally right away. Avoid leaving the situation you’re in, as this only reinforces the idea that your panic symptoms are unbearable. Instead, stay put as you work through your panic attack, allowing the symptoms to pass, as you gain self-confidence in your ability to self-cope. 

If these measures aren’t working and you feel stuck in a cycle of panic attacks, you may need medical or a mental health professional's help, both of which are entirely acceptable. 

Medical Help For Panic Attacks:

In some cases, your panic attack may be caused by an underlying medical condition. Treating the condition should allow your panic attacks to subside. Untreated conditions such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism have been known to cause symptoms of a panic attack. 

However, if the panic attacks are due to anxiety, there are a variety of treatment options:

  • Exposure Therapy: A type of therapy designed to help people overcome their fears. This type of therapy is useful for those suffering from panic attacks as it helps reduce fear and avoidance behaviours with certain triggers. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Thought of as the “gold standard” ineffective talk therapy, CBT works by identifying triggers, redirecting negative thoughts, and teaching patients new coping skills to manage panic attacks. Learn more about how CBT can help you here.

  • Biofeedback Therapy: This technique involved tracking and monitoring a patient's biological symptoms and then feeding them back the information. Through biofeedback therapy, a patient is taught how to consciously manage their physical symptoms. 

Leave Panic Attacks Behind:

If you struggle with panic attacks then you’re well aware of how disruptive they can be. Not only are they incredibly distressing to deal with, the anticipation of another one coming on can be enough to keep you on edge all day every day. 

Thankfully, there are self-help options, as well as medical and mental health treatments available. Mental health professionals dedicate their entire lives to helping you overcome panic attacks and gain self-confidence to live your days stress-free. Panic attacks do not have to own you any longer. Leave panic attacks behind, once and for all

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Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

Emma is an accomplished writer with a passion for mental health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where she gained insight into why people think, feel and behave the way they do.

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