Tips for Coping with Panic Attacks
Panic attacks bring on unexpected episodes of extreme fear that often gives rise to distressing physical symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, experiencing panic attacks on a frequent basis may indicate a person has a form of anxiety disorder known as panic disorder.
This condition affects as many as six million Americans within any given year with women twice as likely to develop panic disorder as men. For someone who experiences panic attacks, not knowing when the next one will strike can be stressful in and of itself, let alone trying to maintain control in the midst of an attack.
Coping with panic attacks has as much to do with getting to know how your body works as it does developing ways to manage and overcome the condition. In some cases, underlying emotional turmoil or psychological dysfunction may also make it difficult when coping with panic attacks.
While there’s a range of practices and techniques available to help in coping with panic attacks, it’s always a good idea to consult with a physician to rule out other medical causes. In cases of extreme panic episodes, seeking help through psychotherapy and even medication treatments may be the only way of coping with panic attacks and regaining a sense of control over your life.
The fear associated with panic disorder fuel the symptoms that characterize this condition. A person experiencing a panic attack may or may not be conscious of what triggers the fear response.
Symptoms associated with panic attacks include –
- Muscle spasms
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme anxiety
- A feeling of impending doom
- Fear of losing control
- Chest pains
- Tingling or numbness in the hands
Symptoms can seem so severe as to prompt a person to go to the emergency room. Not surprisingly, the unknown element in terms of when these episodes will happen only feeds into the fear that drives the condition.
As panic attacks involve both physical and psychological triggers, coping with panic attacks entails working through underlying issues and learning how to manage symptoms when they arise.
Relax Your Breathing
The body’s natural fear response produces rapid and heavy breathing rates in an attempt to provide the body with needed oxygen supplies. In the process, the lungs tend to expel more carbon dioxide than the body’s cells produce. When this happens, low levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream can trigger many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks.
Relaxation breathing techniques can be of great help for coping with panic attacks. Relaxation breathing can also be used as a preventative measure for coping with panic attacks.
The same bodily mechanisms that promote faster breathing rates also cause the body’s muscles to tense up in the face of fear. Once the brain goes on alert, hormone chemicals flood the central nervous system.
Relaxing the body’s muscles works to counteract these physical responses and reduce the severity of panic attack symptoms. Like relaxation breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can be used during a panic attack as well as a preventative measure for coping with panic attacks.
Considering how panic attacks send the body into overdrive in terms of speeding up central nervous system functions, it’s not uncommon for a person to feel fatigued or exhausted from the toll these episodes take. Periods of stress drain the body’s resources, which in turn can make a person even more susceptible to panic attack since the body is in a weakened state.
Activities involving regular exercise reinvigorate the body’s reserves, which can go a long way towards coping with panic attacks overall. Activities such as walking on a daily basis or yoga release endorphin chemicals, the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals. Regular exercise also promotes healthy breathing patterns, reduces muscle tension and instills a sense of overall calm.
Cut Back on Alcohol, Nicotine, Caffeine or Any Other Form of Substance Use
Any substance capable of altering the brain’s chemical processes can potentially aggravate a panic disorder condition. Substances like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine place added strain on brain chemical functions, which further offsets the body’s natural response mechanisms. Addictive drugs act in the same way, and can actually work against a person’s efforts at coping with panic attacks.
In some instances, a person may start using any one of these substances as a means for self-medicating or warding off anxiety states. Under these conditions, coping with panic attacks means eliminating or at least reducing intake amounts for any substances that aggravate a panic disorder condition.
Consider Psychotherapy and Support Group Options
Panic attack triggers often stem from past experiences that brought on extreme feelings of anxiety. From there the mind can concoct any number of ways to associate present-day events with something that happened in the past.
Uncovering the underlying issues that feed panic attack episodes can help in your attempts at coping with panic attacks. Psychotherapy has proven an effective approach for replacing destructive belief systems with healthy coping strategies. Likewise, attending support groups provides an outlet for discussing and working past traumas while learning how others go about coping with panic attack episodes.
Get Help for Any Co-Occurring Disorders
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, it’s not uncommon for someone struggling with panic attacks to be affected by a co-occurring psychological disorder. Psychological disorders commonly associate with panic attack conditions include –
- Major depression
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Like addictive substances, psychological dysfunction only adds to the brain’s state of chemical imbalance brought on by panic attacks. In this case, coping with panic attacks means getting needed treatment help for a psychological disorder. For people dealing with severe panic disorder conditions, medications to treat depression and anxiety symptoms can be of great help for coping with panic attacks.
Having a solid understanding of how panic episodes unfold is the first step to take towards coping with panic attacks. Since family and friends have likely suffered certain consequences as a result of one or more panic episodes, it’s important for those closest to you to have an understanding as well. Doctors and therapists can be valuable resources of information in this regard.