27 Nov 2018
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger. They may even occur when you’re relaxed or asleep.
A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, although some people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public—especially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response.
You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy.
Self-help tips for panic attacks
No matter how powerless or out of control you may feel about your panic attacks, it’s important to know that there are many things you can do to help yourself. The following self-help techniques can make a big difference to helping you overcome panic:
Learn about panic and anxiety. Simply knowing more about panic can go a long way towards relieving your distress. Read articles on panic disorder, and the fight-or-flight response experienced during a panic attack. You’ll learn that the sensations and feelings you have when you panic are normal and that you aren’t going crazy.
Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine. These can all provoke panic attacks in people who are susceptible, it would be good to reduce the amount or stop.
Learn how to control your breathing. Hyperventilation brings on many sensations (such as light-headedness and tightness of the chest) that occur during a panic attack. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can relieve the symptoms of panic. By learning to control your breathing, you can calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious. And if you know how to control your breathing, you’re also less likely to create the very sensations that you’re afraid of.
Practice relaxation techniques. When practised regularly, activities such as yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation strengthen the body’s relaxation response—the opposite of the stress response involved in anxiety and panic. And not only do these relaxation practices promote relaxation, but they also increase feelings of joy and equanimity.
Connect face-to-face with family and friends. Symptoms of anxiety can become worse when you feel isolated, so reach out to people who care.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural anxiety reliever so try to get some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
Get enough restful sleep. Insufficient or poor quality sleep can make anxiety worse, so try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night.