Tight chest pain. A pounding heart. Sweating and chills. A feeling of detachment from the world around you. These are some symptoms of panic attacks, and experiencing them can sometimes be terrifying.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense anxiety or fear that can trigger physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms. Up to 11% of Americans experience panic attacks each year and some symptoms of panic may be related to other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Suffering a panic attack can often create anxiety and uncontrollable worry about experiencing more attacks in the future. People who’ve had panic attacks may also feel like they've temporarily lost a sense of control over their body and mind.
Whether someone has had a panic attack for the first time or experiences them intermittently in their lives, here’s some ways to cope and manage the symptoms.
Recognize the signs of a panic attack
Panic attacks are unpleasant feelings of intense physical, cognitive or emotional experiences. They come on suddenly and often cause symptoms such as:
- Sense of impending doom
- Feeling of detachment
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in throat or chest
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty thinking clearly
A panic attack can sometimes make people think they’re having a medical crisis such as having a heart attack, a stroke, or even thinking that they’re dying. However, it is important to note that panic attacks themselves are not life threatening and cannot physically harm a person.
By learning the signs and symptoms, people are able to actually recognize that what they're experiencing is a panic attack and not a medical crisis. With this recognition, people are then able to realize and acknowledge that they are not in a life threatening situation even though it sometimes can feel that way.
This is helpful because it is one of the first steps to work on being less fearful of the symptoms, which will help decrease the intensity of a panic attack. Once the intensity is lower, then people are also more likely to be accepting of the feelings, allowing the unpleasantness to pass, shifting their headspace to focus on coping mechanisms that can help manage (and hopefully eventually prevent) panic attacks.
Find coping strategies that work for you
Depending on the symptoms, intensity and frequency of panic attacks, different coping strategies may work more effectively for one person compared to another. While the effectiveness of coping strategies vary and need to be personalized, there are a number of general coping mechanisms that can reduce the severity of panic attacks and have proven to be helpful.
Whether you feel a panic attack coming on or you're in the middle of one, some general strategies to help manage and reduce panic symptoms (when possible to implement) include:
- Allowing the unpleasant feelings to come and go
- Focusing on deep, measured breathing
- Repeating a mantra
- Practicing mindfulness
- Practicing muscle relaxation techniques
- Drinking water
- Stepping outside and getting some fresh air
- Finding a healthy distraction by focusing on pleasant stimuli
Sometimes, certain situations or events can trigger panic attacks. In these cases, identifying triggers can also help manage symptoms of panic by allowing you to anticipate when a panic attack might develop and by working on managing these situations more effectively on your own or with the support of a therapist.
Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that’s proven to be one of the most effective methods of treating panic attacks. At Psychology Beverly Hills, our therapists use CBT to help clients gain a better understanding of panic attacks specific to their situation and work with each person to help them develop effective and proven coping strategies to manage and prevent panic symptoms.
Sometimes there are underlying deeper concerns or other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or trauma that may also result in someone experiencing panic attacks. In addition to helping clients manage panic symptoms with CBT, our therapists explore these other factors, and when applicable, may also integrate other evidence based treatment models such as Mentalization Based Therapy (MBT), Somatic Therapy or Psychodynamic Psychotherapy to address underlying concerns.
In addition to therapy, on a case by case basis, our therapists may also speak to clients about the benefits of psychopharmacology treatment to help alleviate the symptoms of panic. When beneficial and agreed upon, we are able to refer clients to trusted psychiatrists for medication management that are proven effective in treating panic attacks and panic disorders.
Panic attacks don’t have to keep you living in fear. Take a proactive approach for your emotional wellbeing and learn effective ways to live with more comfort. Please contact us with any questions by requesting an appointment online or by calling our Beverly Hills, California, office at 424-331-1570.