In this post, I’ll be exploring a number of ways to stop and prevent panic attacks. I’ve written the following lines in the hope that they will help you answer the important questions – i.e. how to stop a panic attack, how to diminish its symptoms, and, ideally, how to prevent further panic attacks and stop having them altogether.
All the methods have been tried and tested by me because I have had the ‘pleasure ‘ to experience panic attacks a number of times. I am glad to say that since I have started practising these steps, my panic attacks have stopped. I hope it will be the same for you, if you are currently experiencing them.
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Why Do We Get Panic Attacks?
Those who have not (yet?) experienced a panic attack, might perhaps imagine it as some stronger form of nervousness or increased anxiety. This is all true, but only a person who has experienced it knows how dreadful it is to suddenly start losing control over everything. The intense surge of fear caused by thoughts like ‘These may be my last moments before death!‘ is hard to describe.
Panic attacks can come as a complete surprise when we think that everything is going well in our life; however, they can happen as a delayed reaction to a stressful event, various life changes, unconscious processes that we might not even be aware of, or very simply, lack of sleep and too much caffeine!
A Number of Symptoms
Panic attacks are always overwhelming, because of so many symptoms, both physical and emotional.
They can manifest through sudden breathing difficulty, especially breathing in. Or we suddenly feel as if we can’t swallow. A wave of weakness can overcome us, and our heart can start beating very quickly, which is probably the scariest part of it, because how do we know that this is not an actual heart attack?
We can start sweating and trembling and feeling uncomfortably restless, feeling an urge to move, to fidget, run away from our own self.
What’s truly scary is the feeling of detachment from our own mind. As if we are suddenly not in our body, but disappearing somewhere – either flying away or falling to a black hole. It’s a horrible sensation of doom! One can also start dreading that this could be the beginning of a stroke. No wonder we end up panicking!
My Own Experience
Throughout my twenties and thirties, I had a number of panic attacks. One of those happened at home and completely out of the blue – when I was washing the dishes. All of a sudden, something was not right. And it was changing from ‘not right’ to ‘terribly wrong’. I thought I was going clinically insane. That was the scariest part – not to be in control of my own mind!
I kept asking myself: “Where am I?” My reality suddenly felt completely alien. I was so much in need to get to the familiar state of normality that I grabbed a piece of bread and started to eat it, concentrating on every bite. The taste of the bread was something familiar to me, and was hoping that it would help me to get back from this weird trip.
When, many centuries later, (well, in reality about an hour later) I came back to the so desired normal state, I found chunks of bread everywhere, on the kitchen floor, spread over the carpet in the living room… in short, a complete mess!
It really was the weirdest experience I’ve ever gone through. It was really scary to totally lose control over my body all of a sudden. It felt like a computer experiencing a major crash.
An Unwanted Departure
It felt as if my body was becoming paralyzed, where for periods of time I couldn’t speak or open my eyes, and there was this strange electricity rising up all my limbs and leaving them extremely heavy and light at the same time, while at the same time my mind (or what I perceive as ‘me’) was departing somewhere far away, which was probably the scariest notion.
I was afraid I was losing my mind – quite literally… I was trying to at least control my breathing, but even that was still a struggle. I was hyperventilating and could feel my heart racing.
I was also unconscious for some time. At one point I remember my husband was sponging me down (it was an extremely hot day) but for a few moments I was convinced I was an old dying lady at a hospice and my husband was an old nurse!
In a way, it was a bit like a ‘bad trip’, when one becomes heavily stoned and doesn’t enjoy it, and wants to come back to earth from that unknown faraway place,
Then I felt I was being hurled into a black hole of eternal doom. I was falling at a nauseating speed, and I thought to myself “This must be the thing that we’re all scared of – dying!” An intense panic attack is really not far from a hallucinogenic experience.
What to Do When You Have a Panic Attack
Panic attacks can be scary and may hit you quickly. You might be sitting on a train, standing in a supermarket queue, watching TV at home, or enjoying yourself at a party. It can start absolutely anywhere, unfortunately even on the motorway, with you behind the wheel.
Here are a few strategies you can use to try to stop or diminish a panic attack when you feel it is coming or when you’re always experiencing one:
1. Try to Breathe Slowly and Deeply
Like me, you might be hyperventilating as a result of a panic attack, and this symptom can add to your anxiety. However, if you consciously focus on slow, calm, deep breathing, you can significantly reduce the scary symptoms of a panic attack. If you can gain at least partial control of your breathing, the hyperventilating will decrease and your mind will become calmer.
When you breathe in, (ideally through your nose) put your hand on your belly and try to breathe into your belly. Imagine it’s an inflatable balloon.
2. Acknowledge a Panic Attack Is Not Life-Threatening
Once you have recognized that panic attacks are temporary, and mainly, not life-threatening, your own mind will help you calm down and regain control more quickly. The main thing is to shake off that fear of dying, which is the most horrifying symptom of a panic attack.
By recognizing that you’re having a panic attack instead of a heart attack, you can remind yourself that this is temporary, it will pass, and that you’re ok. Try to diminish the fear that you may be dying or going insane. These feelings are typical symptoms of a panic attack. Once you recognise that you are having ‘just a panic attack’, you will be able to focus on all the techniques to reduce your symptoms.
3. Try Energy Medicine Techniques
In the following video you’ll see the renowned teacher of energy medicine, Donna Eden, and her husband, clinical psychologist David Feinstein, present three stress and anxiety-releasing techniques which may be a great help while you are going through a panic attack.
One of these quick-help techniques is holding your ‘Neurovascular points’, which Donna is mentioning in the video. You can also check my related article, How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety, where I’m describing an interesting self-testing experiment that I have learned from Donn. All you’ll need is a tea kettle..!
4. Find Something to Focus On
As panic attacks can cause a scary feeling of detachment or separation from reality, your main wish will usually be to get back to reality as quickly as possible.
What I’ve found helpful is to concentrate on familiar sensations, such as rubbing my hands on my thighs, chewing something, or stroking my hands.
However, don’t try to run away or do vigorous exercise – you want to calm down, so you might want to do some gentle stretching instead.
5. Calmly Talk to Others
You can share what you are going through with others. Try to describe the symptoms objectively, and then reassuring yourself (and them, if they are equally scared as you are) that this state will eventually pass.
6. Lie Down and Raise Your Legs
If you can, you may want to lie down and raise your legs. I was advised this by a doctor who had seen me during one of my panic attacks. This will help your blood flow back to your head, and you may gain mind control more quickly. It may also help your body relax and ease the overall tension which makes your anxiety worse.
7. Use Soothing Essential Oils or Calming Teas
The best bet is stress-relieving lavender in a form of essential oil, which you can spread on your palms and gently breathe in.
Or if you find the scent of pure lavender too intense, you can try a more sophisticated blend of essential oils, such as the Relaxation Calming Blend by Ellia.com. (You’ll find this specific blend under the category ‘Roll Ons’.)
A cup of soothing chamomile tea might also help you relax if you’re lucky to have someone near you to make it for you. I can’t picture myself making myself a cup of tea while in the middle of a panic attack! For that reason, it is good to have a flask of essential oil at hand.
8. Do the 4-7-8 Technique
The 4-7-8 technique leads your mind and body to focus on regulating your breathing, rather than your worries, anxiety, or negative thoughts. Dr. Weil describes it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” People who practice this technique say that it can calm a racing heart or frazzled nerves, so it might help someone experiencing a panic attack as well.
How to do the 4-7-8 Technique:
- Inhale for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale for a count of eight.
Repeat this cycle four times.
Watch Dr. Weill demonstrate this technique in the following video.
In the second video, Dr. Weill talks about the success of the 4-7-8 technique for serious panic attacks. You will find that passage at 7:20. He says that people who have anxiety attacks have one thing in common: Their breathing becomes irregular, rapid, or shallow. However, if you practice the 4-7-8 technique, where the breathing is deep, slow, and regular, it’s almost impossible to be overcome with anxiety at the same time.
Dr. Weill has taught this technique with severe panic disorders. He gives an example of one of his patients who whose anxiety disorder was very severe, to the point that he was dependent on valium, but after practicing the technique regularly for two years, he got control of the condition and got off all the medication.
How to Prevent Future Panic Attacks
Be Mindful of Your Caffeine Intake
My own panic attacks were often triggered after drinking a larger amount of coffee. The stimuli we get from caffeine is due to our body releasing higher amounts of adrenaline, a hormone that raises blood pressure. From a nice initial kick, this can often turn to feeling edgy or anxious, and can lead to a panic attack.
Practice the 4-7-8 Technique
Practice the breathing method mentioned above (point 8). If you incorporate it into your daily routine and do it twice a day, as Dr. Weill recommends, you may prevent future panic attacks.
One of the best ways to prevent future panic attacks from happening is regular meditation. When you meditate, your body experiences a deep physical and emotional de-stressing process, which will have a great impact on your nervous system, your sleep, your focus, your mood, and much more.
Since I’ve started meditating regularly, I haven’t had one single panic attack. It is really, really worth trying. I have written about it in my article The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, where I look quite deep into the science of this ancient practice, and where I list all the positive effects of meditation which I have personally experienced.
Keep Your Body Moving
There are plenty of ways to do this, from common physical exercise to moving your subtle energies through Energy Medicine or EFT Tapping. If you’d like to find out more, check my posts Ten Things to Do When Feeling Down, where I am exploring such techniques.
Do The Daily Energy Routine
The Daily Energy Routine is a set of exercises designed to balance and strengthen energetic systems in your body. This leads to greater resilience, the ability to fight illnesses, and generally feeling better. I have been doing this short routine every day for almost two years and I believe that these exercises have contributed to keeping my panic attacks at bay. I also haven’t had a cold since I started this daily routine. I highly recommend trying it out!
Panic Attacks Can Serve Us (Before We Get Rid of Them for Good)
Panic attacks are always extremely unpleasant, but once we manage to control our fear, we can start taming their symptoms and eventually condition our mind to avoid these states altogether.
They can, in their own way, serve us as a useful indicator that some area in our lives might need our attention – so a panic attack can actually prove a useful tool for solving a problem we were subconsciously avoiding.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions or would you like to share your experience or opinion, leave a comment below.
BY LUCIE DUN
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