The first time I had a panic attack, I thought for sure I was dying. I remember it all so clearly. My mom and I were arguing, both screaming at the top of our lungs. Next thing I knew, I was gasping for air and hyperventilating. My heart was racing and the room was spinning. I cried enough tears to fill an ocean as I looked at my mom with fear in my eyes. She immediately flew into action, grabbing a paper bag and telling me to breathe into it. It seemed to help, but a medical professional later informed us that this method doesn’t really work. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety. It triggers severe physical symptoms even when there is no real danger. Often times when describing panic attacks, people will say it feels like they’re having a heart attack or dying.
This was just the beginning of many panic attacks. I once had one so severe that my older sister called 911. Each time I have an attack, it feels like the world is ending. Living with anxiety and having panic attacks is crippling. I’ve had them in public places like school and work which caused me to try and isolate myself from the world. I avoided places I knew could potentially trigger an attack. It has been years since my first panic attack but I still struggle with them. Over the years, I’ve acquired coping skills that have helped me calm myself when I’m having one.
Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- Pounding or racing heart
- Sweating or chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Tingling or numbness
- Breathing problems or shortness of breath
- Weakness or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
The symptoms of a panic attack can be quite terrifying and make you feel like you’re dying. That being said, there are methods you can try to help calm the attack.
How to Calm a Panic Attack
- Take deep breaths. This is probably the most important one. There are different breathing techniques you can try but the two I use are the following:
- Inhale deeply for a count of 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 4.
- Inhale as deep as you can, exhale for as long as you can.
It’s important to remember your breath during this time because so often during a panic attack we’re hyperventilating and it gets hard to breathe.
- Get some fresh air. For me, most times when I feel a panic attack coming, I start to feel as though I’m suffocating and the walls are closing in on me. What helps is going outside and breathing in the air.
- Find one object to focus on. Choose an object you can see clearly and focus all your attention on it. Describe everything you notice about this object.
- Use essential oils. Essential oils like lavender are believed to have a calming effect. Use your essential oils in a diffuser or rub some on your wrists and inhale the smell. This may help to ease your symptoms.
- Repeat a mantra or affirmation. By doing this, you are reassuring yourself that everything will be ok and that what you’re experiencing will pass. Repeat something such as, “I am calm” or “This will pass.”
- Talk to your support system. If you’re able to, tell them how you’re feeling and let them know how they can support you.
- Picture a place that brings you joy. What is your happy place? Close your eyes and envision yourself in that place. This will help center you and bring you down from your attack.
- Learn your triggers. Being able to identify your triggers will help you to manage your anxiety by learning to cope and act sooner in controlling possible attacks.
- Take medication. Sometimes panic attacks are so severe and continuous that we need medication and that’s ok. There is prescription medication available that can help put you at ease.
- Meditate. This is more of a daily commitment. Finding time to meditate each day can help reduce anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend starting with a guided meditation. Two of my favorite places to find guided meditations are the Insight Timer App and Youtube.
Living with anxiety and fighting off panic attacks can be devastating. It can cause you to want to isolate yourself from the world. Know that you are not alone and that there is help available.