Breathing Principles Series - Managing Anxiety and Panic Attacks
In the short term, there are a few things you can do to help manage the symptoms of a panic attack and to get yourself back under control and to safety.
Get to Safety
The first and most important thing to do during a panic attack is to get your-self to safety. Panic attacks cause hyperventilation, light headedness, and disassociation. In other words, there is a real danger of falling over or having an accident – especially if you're in charge of a vehicle.
For these reasons, you should try to get to safety immediately if you notice the symptoms of a panic attack beginning to set in and that way you can make sure that you won't be likely to fall over or to crash a vehicle. If you are in public, tell someone how you are feeling and then find a quiet spot to sit down where you can breathe quietly. If you are driving, then calmly take the next opportunity to pull over.
If you are suffering a full-blown panic attack, then there is a good chance that you might be suffering with hyperventilation. This happens when we get overexcited which in turn leads to us breathing rapidly and thus lowering CO2. This is also the reason that panic attacks will often lead to feelings of light-headedness and dizziness and why they can even cause you to fall over or pass out.
There are multiple different types of treatment for hyperventilation, and all of these can give you good ideas of what to do during a panic attack to help get your breathing back in order.
With or without hyperventilation, it is important to get your breathing under control and to make a conscious effort to try and breathe deeply and slowly. This is one of the main methods recommended by cognitive behavioral therapists as a way to prevent the panic attack symptoms and to help restore order.
Breathing deeply and slowly is effective because it encourages the activation of the 'parasympathetic nervous system'. This is the system within the body that acts contrary to the sympathetic nervous system, and which puts the body in a restful 'rest and digest state' that is essentially the opposite of the fight or flight response.
Breathe Into a Bag
Panic attacks offer trigger hyperventilation which essentially means you start breathing faster and faster to the point where you upset the balance of carbon dioxide in your blood. In other words – too much CO2 and not enoughO2. The solution is to breathe into a bag which forces you to rebreathe' the same air thus adjusting the balance back to normal and healthy levels.
As mentioned, you might find that using some form of medication or per- haps essential oils can be useful for treating symptoms in the short term. If you really can’t afford to have an attack, then this is a good way to reduce the symptoms. Over time though, the objective is to use the skills taught in the next section to avoid needing medication at all.
Calm Your Thoughts
When we have panic attacks, they will often occur alongside anxious thoughts and these can include fears of death among other things. As mentioned, these ruminations are both symptoms of panic attacks and causative factors – thus creating a vicious cycle.
Key in recovering from panic attacks then is to try and stay calm. This in turn means being disciplined with your thoughts and using positive affirmations etc. to try and reassure yourself that nothing bad is going to happen.
You can learn thought techniques designed to help you combat panic at- tacks by seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist. These are therapists that provide thinking tools which can help you to know what to do during a panic as well as during phobic responses and in several other situations.
In general, try to remind yourself that the best course of action is to let the attack run its course. If you are sitting down and you're safe, a panic attack poses no danger to you and is nothing to be embarrassed about. The sooner you can learn this and believe it, the sooner the symptoms will stop arising in the first place.
So, the best thing you can do? That is to simply act normal.
And it’s practicing this ability to act normal that will help you to decrease the occurrence of panic attacks in the long-term…