Dealing with panic attacks

By Samuel Clinton

Panic attacks can occur in a variety of forms such as silence, rocking back and forth, struggling to breathe or feeling disorientated. I myself have suffered from panic attacks in the past, with the worst one occurring in 2018. I had a huge panic attack on the pavement after a night out. I got really upset, struggled to breathe, was feeling disorientated and embarrassed in front of my friends. But with their support, I got through it. And I am pleased to say that since that incident, I have not suffered from another panic attack as I have been dealing with my anxiety on a daily basis and ensured my mental health is a priority.

So, based on my personal experience and research, I will share five ways to deal with a panic attack which you may find helpful for yourself or a loved one who suffers with panic attacks.

1. Focus your attention

First of all, trying to focus on something or someone can make you feel less disorientated and more grounded in the moment. Focus all of your attention on that one thing and study everything about it. Then describe it to yourself, either out loud or in your head. This could also mean holding onto an object or person. For example, when I had a panic attack, holding the hand of one of my friends made me feel less alone. My friend also helped me to control my breathing and focus on that. Which leads me to the second point...

2. Control your breathing

During a panic attack you can sometimes end up hyperventilating, which can be a scary experience. Therefore it's really important to control your breathing. You should try to take a deep breath in through your nose, feeling the air fill your chest, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. And repeat. It can be useful to count in your head as you breathe to ensure you are taking deep breaths of several seconds. It may also help to close your eyes so you can block out any stimuli from your current environment that is overwhelming you and triggering your panic attack. As panic attacks can make you feel detached from reality, deep breathing goes hand-in-hand with focusing on what or who is around you so you feel grounded in your surroundings.

3. Talk to yourself as you would talk to someone else

When you start experiencing a panic attack you may feel that you’re going to faint, or even that you’re going to die. That feeling is related to the physical chest pains and increased heart rate you will be experiencing. And of course this is likely to make you more anxious. So it's important to recognise that you are having a panic attack and try to calm yourself by remembering that it is temporary and will soon pass. Try to remind yourself that many other people also experience panic attacks and you are not alone. To help you acknowledge these feelings you can talk to yourself out loud or in your head. It can bring you back into the moment and help you feel in control of the situation. Phrases which might be helpful to repeat are:

  • "This is only temporary, it will pass”

  • “I am not alone"

  • "It's okay that this happened, there is nothing wrong with me”

  • “I have experienced panic attacks before, it is not a heart attack, I am not going to die"

  • "I am going to be fine but it is okay to be scared”

  • “Breathe in, and out, nice and slow”

4. Using lavender

A lot of people who struggle with anxiety have found it helpful to carry lavender oil on them. For me personally, when I had my worst panic attack, one of my friends gave me a small bottle of lavender oil to help calm me down, as she suffers with anxiety as well. And it really did help me. Lavender is known to be stress reducing and relaxing for your body. Putting some oil on your hands or forearms and breathing in the scent can help to relax you and gives you something therapeutic to focus on. Drinking lavender tea is also a good habit to get into, especially first thing in the morning to start the day (when it can be overwhelming) or in the evenings before bed.

5. Talking to those you trust

The final thing I found which helps me to combat panic attacks, and deal with my anxiety on a daily basis, is to talk openly with people you trust. Talking honestly about your mental health and wellbeing, including panic attacks, is so important for processing your emotions, rationalising what's going on and letting others in so they can support you. It can also be helpful to tell close friends and family the things that calm you down when you experience a panic attack so that they can best support you if it happens. Additionally, through talking about it, others may open up to you, allowing you to support one another and share your experiences and advice so you can combat it together. This is more of a long-term coping strategy and will not necessarily help you in the moment of suffering a panic attack but it could help you deal with them better in future. It also helps break down the stigma, realise you're not alone and makes you more confident in discussing it.

You can read more of our articles on anxiety here.

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