Dayna Sharp, LCSW
Don’t Panic...It’s Only a Panic Attack!
“Only a panic attack?”, you may be asking, incredulously. If you‘ve have ever had a panic attack, you know that they can really scary! Seemingly out of the blue, you may feel like you can’t breathe, your heart may race—you may even feel chest pain! Some people feel dizzy and/or nauseous. Many people report feeling like they are not in control of their bodies and feelings, and consequently feel tremendously unsafe. It’s no wonder many people find themselves in an emergency room trying to understand what is happening to them!
Causes of Panic Attacks
No one knows for sure why some people experience panic attack’s and others don’t. However, it’s generally believed that there is a combination of a genetic predisposition for anxiety/panic as well as environmental triggers, ie. stress. If you do experience panic attacks, it is a good idea to rule out any underlying medical issue or to ensure it’s not a side effect/withdrawal effect of medication.
How to Cope
1. Get yourself to a safe place. Maybe it’s the bathroom at your job. Maybe you’ve got to pull over in your car. It’s okay to excuse Yourself from a conversation. Have a prepared excuse handy. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to excuse myself and use the restroom. I’ll be right back”. You are human, and sometimes humans have needs that must be attended to. That it normal and no further explanation is necessary. If you have a child that experiences panic attacks, make sure you have a 504 plan or IEP that accommodates anxiety and panic.
2. Now that you have taken care of your need for privacy, identify what is happening: “This is a panic attack”. You've ruled out medical issues. You are not having a heart attack. You are not going to die. “It’s only a panic attack”. They are uncomfortable, but not fatal.
2. Use grounding and centering skills to get your central nervous system back to balance. Slow, deep breaths in through the nose, slow breaths out of your mouth. Gently look around your environment. Notice three things around you. Be present in the place where you are. Feel your feet on the floor, notice the way they feel in your shoes, on the tops and the bottoms. Remember that you are safe.
3. Panic Attacks usually last about 10 minutes. While you are in one, it can feel like it goes on forever, and that thought only provokes more panic. Remind yourself. Ten minutes. It feels like forever, but it's not. You can do anything for ten minutes. This too shall pass.
4. Keep breathing. Keep grounding.
5. Know that anxiety, panic, and all of their related symptoms are a normal part of your survival system. There is nothing wrong with you. Your nervous system simply needs a reminder that it is safe. The heart beating? Just a result of Norepinephrine and Cortisol. Trouble breathing? Same. Upset stomach? Your body is trying to get rid of anything nonessential so it can run from danger. Know that what you are experiencing is for a reason, know that it is normal, even predictable, when your mind and body perceive danger. Remind yourself in every and any way possible that you are safe.
Will I Always Have Panic Attacks?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive yes or no answer to this question. I can say that I’ve worked with many people, who, with consistent therapy, have greatly reduced the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. I’ve also worked with people who have stopped having them completely. It IS possible!
The best way to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks is by practicing with the support of an experienced therapist. By finding ways to identify triggers, to reduce stress, to compassionately work through the attacks when they occur. By noticing what helped this time, what you can do more of next time. And most importantly, by creating a space to feel safe and to learn to take care of your body's needs.
Take the first step and call for an appointment today! 856-281-1664