You may have heard of a panic attack, but how do you know if you’ve experienced one? If you suffer a panic attack, you may experience sudden and intense feelings of anxiety and fear. Some people have even mistaken a panic attack for a heart attack! The symptoms of a panic attack can be shocking if you have never experienced it before and you might become alarmed, which can exacerbate the episode. Some people experience multiple panic attacks throughout their lifetime, while other people may experience a single panic attack in their lifetime. If this happens to you, then you want to learn techniques and tricks for helping yourself calm down from a panic attack. Talk to your doctor or chiropractor in Atlanta to learn more about what is causing your panic attacks and treatment options that may help.
What Is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack refers to a sudden and intense experience of fear and anxiety as if you were faced with true danger. When you suffer a panic attack, it will trigger your sympathetic nervous system and engages your “fight or flight” response. A panic attack may occur without warning, or you may start to notice symptoms over the span of a few minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack may include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or hyperventilating. Other symptoms of a panic attack can include rapid heartbeat, chest pain, hot flashes, shaking, sweating, and nausea. A panic attack can also cause you to feel faint. Some people who experience panic attacks can develop a fear associated with having another panic attack, which can develop into a panic disorder. While a panic attack isn’t life-threatening, the symptoms may seem similar to other serious health conditions like a heart attack. If you are not sure whether you are experiencing a panic attack or a heart attack, then seek medical attention right away to rule out the possibility of a life-threatening condition.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
It is possible to have a panic attack without an obvious cause. High levels of stress can contribute to panic attacks. Going through a high-stress situation or major life change can also increase the possibility of experiencing a panic attack. If your family has a history of panic attacks, then you may be at greater risk for experiencing them as well. Panic attacks have been linked to certain mental health conditions, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias. Your genetics, environment, and life stage can all play a part in panic attack causes. In order to diagnose a panic attack, your doctor will want to know about your symptoms as well as your medical history. If you experience frequent panic attacks, then your doctor may recommend follow-up care with a psychiatrist or mental health specialist for additional support and care.
10 Ways to Manage a Panic Attack
You might be wondering how to stop a panic attack when you feel the symptoms coming on. While you may not always be able to recognize when a panic attack is about to happen, there are certain things you can do in your daily life to better support your overall health and well-being. Here are 10 ways to manage a panic attack and help you calm down after such a stressful experience.
Common symptoms of a panic attack impact your breathing, including shortness of breath, hyperventilating, and difficulty breathing. Practice deep breathing techniques to help reduce your symptoms during an attack. When you take a deep breath from your diaphragm, your body is getting a boost of oxygen to your brain. Taking slow, deep breaths when you recognize a panic attack can help you stay in control of your breathing. When not in distress, deep breathing is associated with relaxation and comfort, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Place your hands on your belly and feel as you take a deep breath in, hold for a few seconds, and then slowly release through your mouth.
Close Your Eyes
A panic attack can occur when you become overstimulated in your current environment. If you close your eyes, this can help reduce input to one of your senses and reduce stimuli that may be exacerbating your panic attack. When your eyes are closed, you can focus better on your other senses and pay close attention to your breathing. As you focus in on your breathing and close your eyes to block out overwhelming stimuli, your body may be better able to calm down from the fight or flight response triggered by the attack.
Focus Your Attention
For people who find closing their eyes uncomfortable or impossible when dealing with a panic attack, you can try focusing your attention on a specific object. Find an object nearby to focus your attention on and try to think only of that object. What does it look like? What is the color or texture? Note to yourself in as much detail as you can about the object to help focus your mind on the object instead of what is happening to your body. When you focus all your attention and energy on something other than yourself and your experience, it can help reduce your symptoms.
Mindfulness is a practice that helps you focus on the reality of what’s going on around you. When you experience a panic attack, it can cause you to feel detached or like you are experiencing your symptoms in a bubble. Mindfulness strategies like focusing on the present and meditation can help combat a panic attack you feel coming on. Learn more about mindfulness by reading a book or listening to a podcast for specific tips and tricks to help you focus on the present. One technique involves focusing on physical sensations, starting with your toes and working your way up the body to the top of your head.
Muscle tension and anxiety are closely linked because when we experience stress and anxiety, we tend to tense up our muscles. You may notice how, on a stressful day, your shoulders and neck feel tense and stiff. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques can help reduce tension in your body, which can help alleviate conditions like anxiety that may contribute to your panic attacks. One type of muscle relaxation technique is called progressive muscle relaxation. Similar to when you practice deep breathing, you want to focus your attention on a specific muscle group at a time. You may start with the tension and pain in your neck and shoulders before moving on to your back, then your legs, then all the way to your toes.
We all know the sense of relief you feel when you spend time in your happy place. Whether that is on a beach with your toes in the sand or on a nature trail breathing in cool mountain air, images of these happy places can help stimulate that relaxing feeling you get when you are there. Guided imagery involves picturing something like this, where you visualize your time in nature, peace, and quiet. Guided imagery can help with a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. When you practice guided imagery, you want to focus on what each of your five senses experiences in your happy place: the sights, smells, sounds, flavors, and sensations.
When your heart is racing as a panic attack comes on, the last thing that you might consider is light exercise. However, gently moving your body can help redirect that stress and tension into kinetic movement and help release that energy. Light exercise for a panic attack may include gentle stretches that you move through while focusing on your breathing. Going for a walk, a swim, or practicing yoga can also help you redirect your attention to how your body feels in the moment with certain movements and activities. Engaging in exercise as part of your daily routine can also help support a healthy heart rate and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Soothing scents like lavender essential oil or your favorite calming candle can help engage your senses and help you focus on the present. Lavender is an essential oil and scent commonly associated with relaxation and stress reduction. Soothing scents can have a calming effect on your whole body, causing you to release tense muscles and relax in the moment. You may also start a habit of lighting a candle or diffusing essential oils when you recognize the symptoms of a panic attack. This can help you remind your body through your sense of smell about relaxation techniques you can engage in to help you calm down from a panic attack.
Your doctor may also recommend medications if you experience multiple panic attacks or have a mental health condition that results in panic attacks. Many of these medications require a prescription and can lead to dependence if not taken appropriately. Your doctor may only recommend medication for short-term use along with other treatment approaches to help address your panic attacks. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications can be taken for short or long-term use, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Counseling can provide you with helpful tools to help manage and prevent panic attacks. One type of counseling is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and helps you adjust your perspective on frightening situations like a panic attack. CBT may include identifying and exposing you to triggers in a safe space where you and your counselor can work through a panic attack together. A counselor can also walk you through mindfulness techniques to help reduce symptoms. Counseling for anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can also help reduce symptoms like panic attacks.
Treatment for Panic Attacks
When you visit a doctor for panic attack treatment, they will likely recommend a combination of techniques to address your panic attacks. Your doctor may also recommend counseling or working with a mental health specialist to address an underlying cause of anxiety, depression, or panic disorder. In many cases, a combination of medication, counseling, and lifestyle changes can help you effectively manage your symptoms of a panic attack. Lifestyle changes may range from eating more nutritious meals to getting plenty of sleep at night. Your doctor will likely want to know about your typical physical activity and may recommend you engage in light to moderate physical activity each day to help boost your overall mental and physical health. Learning about stress management techniques, including some of the examples listed above, can also help you calm down from a panic attack. Identifying any potential triggers, like caffeine or a specific activity, can help you recognize what to limit or restrict in your daily routines.
Does chiropractic care help with anxiety and depression? While many panic attacks are unpredictable, there are still many things you can do to take a proactive approach to prevent future attacks. When you focus on your overall well-being, this can help reduce common triggers or potential causes like anxiety, depression, and too much stress. Seeking treatment from your doctor or chiropractor may seem embarrassing at first but know that they want to help you learn how to manage your panic attacks more effectively and hopefully prevent future attacks. Panic attacks can affect people of all ages, from adolescents to adults. Whether you are going through a major life change, like the addition of a baby to your family, or you are learning how to handle your generalized anxiety disorder more effectively, talk to your doctor if you are experiencing panic attacks.
At AICA Orthopedics, our team of doctors is here to help you and support your health and well-being. Visit an AICA Orthopedics location near you to get started with one of our doctors or chiropractors, and you will receive the personalized attention and care that you deserve. Call or visit us online to schedule an appointment at an office near you!