Anxiety or Panic Attacks can hit you out of nowhere and can be so severe that you’re convinced you’re dying or that something is SERIOUSLY wrong. Taking steps to manage your stress and anxiety on a regular basis can help reduce the likelihood and recurrence of attacks, but what can you do if you’re already experiencing an attack?
Here are some tips for riding the wave of a panic attack and making it safely back to shore:
- Don’t Panic
The first thing that you need to do is recognize the signs of an attack and remember that it is TEMPORARY. During a panic attack your heart will race, you may feel dizzy or disoriented, and your mouth may feel dry, but it is important to remember that it is not as bad as it feels and it will pass.
- Don’t Run (if you can help it)
It can be very tempting to remove yourself entirely from the space or situation you are in when a panic attack hits but try to resist that urge. Running away may seem helpful, but you are training your brain to be anxious of that situation when you run away from it to feel relief. Instead, try to find relief in other ways that will help train your brain that the place or situation itself is not dangerous.
- Ground yourself
One of the most effective ways to get through a panic attack is to ground yourself. There are several techniques and methods for doing this. Here are some suggestions:
- Drink some water-
- Measured or Square breathing- Breathing in a measured pattern (for example, In for four seconds, Hold for seven seconds, Out for eight seconds) or practicing Square breathing serves the dual purpose of grounding you whilst also changing your focus from your panic attack to observing the pattern
- The 54321 method- This method is also pattern based but focuses more on your senses to ground you. Using this method, you will name 5 things you see in the room, name 4 things you can feel, name 3 things you can hear right now, name 2 things you can smell, and name 1 good thing about yourself. Alternatively, you can choose one object nearby to touch and describe in detail.
- Recite a mantra- Having a go-to mantra can provide a safe, familiar place for your mind to go during an anxiety attack. It should be positive and remind you that this is temporary and that you are strong enough to handle it. (EX: “I am safe, I am strong, and this feeling will pass”) You can repeat the same one over and over, or have multiples that you cycle through, but try to focus on saying them in a calm, almost monotone way.
- Exercise your memory- Use declarative memory to ground yourself and bring you back to the present. You can try to list as many brands of candy or breeds of dog that you know or do something as simple as reciting the alphabet backwards.
If you experience chronic anxiety, it would be helpful to choose one of these or find a method that works for you and implement it.
- Give yourself time
Once the worst of the attack has past, make sure you give yourself ample time to feel okay again before you try to resume your daily activities or try to tackle a project or task. Make sure that you have sufficiently calmed and are able to move forward without risking a subsequent attack. Meditating for a short while can help with this.
- Recognize your triggers
If you can, it is helpful to recognize things that trigger your panic attacks. When you recognize what is causing your anxiety or stress to spike, you can take steps to address the underlying issue which will help avoid future episodes.
Anxiety attacks can be a scary thing, especially if you don’t understand why they are happening or how to deal with them, but if you use these tips and remember that it will pass, they can be much more bearable.