Anxiety and panic attacks occur in many forms. You may not even realise you’re having one until after the fact. For some people, they come on as a heightened state of agitation. Others experience intense fear along with physical symptoms of these attacks that may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling suddenly hot or cold
- Feeling faint
- Tingling or numbness in hands or fingers
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling out of control
While most anxiety attacks are brief, the after-effects or symptoms can remain long after the initial attack has ended. For some people the effects of panic attacks are so profound they will change the way they live their lives for fear of experiencing another attack.
For those with asthma, panic attacks can trigger asthma attacks and make it more challenging to breath.
Understanding how to cope during an anxiety attack can be instrumental in maintaining or retaking control of your life. These are some steps you can take to help you cope during a panic attack, so you do not become overwhelmed by them when they occur.
Minimise Stress and Anxiety
The first step in retaking control of your life and your sense of panic when the world around you closes in is tacking stress and anxiety. Most anxiety attacks are in response to one or both of these triggering issues.
This is especially the case if there is one specific stressor that tends to bring on your panic attacks. This may involve changing jobs, pursuing a new career, avoiding certain people, or even changing your daily routine.
However, it may not come to such drastic actions if you can do things at home that help you manage these stressors more effectively. Activities you can do to reduce stress and anxiety overall can go a long way toward restoring balance and minimising a stress-related panic attack.
These activities include:
- Exercise. This is one of the most important things you can do to minimise stress and anxiety in your life.
- Meditation. Spending just five minutes at the beginning or end of your day meditating can help you reduce stress and minimise anxiety.
- Journaling. Putting your thoughts on paper helps you work through problems and find clarity, greatly reducing your stress levels.
- Chewing gum. According to ScienceDirect, chewing gum has a positive impact on occupational stress, work performance and overall well-being.
- Laughing. Visit your favourite comedy club and laugh the night away at least once a month. Not only does laughing cause stress relief on its own, it also helps to relax your muscles, further easing tension.
Practice Breathing Exercises
Of course, this can only help if you recognise your panic attack for what it is. However, the moment you put the pieces together and realise you’re having a panic attack, you can begin to calm yourself by engaging in deep breathing exercises.
For some people, all you need to do is focus every ounce of your attention in breathing in and out slowly and deeply. Others need additional help of counting while breathing. It doesn't have to be out loud. You can silently count off seconds as you breathe in and then breathe out. These are familiar, comforting and calming things that help you regain the control panic attacks make you feel as though you've lost.
If you have asthma, the shortness of breath related to panic attacks may make breathing difficult. Be sure to carry your blue reliever inhaler with you and use it, if needed to help you with your breathing.
Consider Grounding Techniques
Try using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. This technique involves using your five senses to help you regain control during and immediately after a panic attack. Close your eyes for a moment then identify:
- Five things you can see.
- Four things you can feel.
- Three things you can hear.
- Two things you can smell.
- One thing you can taste. (Bringing around mints or gum at all times helps with this.)
Once you've identified all these grounding things. Take a deep breath and try to resume your day.
Engage in Intense Physical Activity
Many people struggle to participate in grounding activities mentioned above because they are too fuelled by adrenaline released during the panic attack. Intense physical activities like running on a treadmill or elliptical machine, punching a punchbag, or even intense dancing to loud music can help deplete the excess energy so you can begin the grounding process.
There is no one solution that works for everyone who experiences panic attacks. Each of these activities can help to reduce the effect a panic attack has on your life. It is not necessary to have someone with you unless your reactions are severe, and you need the comfort of another person. If the effects are severe or if you have changed your normal routine to avoid an attack, it may be time to discuss your anxiety issues with your GP.