Home Mental Health & Well-Being What Does It Feel Like to Have a Panic Attack?

What Does It Feel Like to Have a Panic Attack?

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Experiencing multiple panic attacks can be overwhelming, but there are effective strategies to navigate around these scary incidents. To learn these strategies, you have to be familiar with how panic attacks work.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of very intense fear that instantly triggers a very severe reaction (often seemingly coming out of nowhere). Panic attacks can be incredibly scary and frightening, triggering a wide range of symptoms.

“Symptoms of a panic attack can feel like a heart attack, which is why sufferers may end up in an emergency medical facility with complaints of chest pains,” Renewed Freedom Center explains. “Other sensations include shortness of breath, pounding heart, dizziness, shaking, chills, and feeling like you’re losing control of your body, going crazy, or dying.”

Most people have had an isolated panic attack in their lifetimes – or maybe a couple here and there. However, for some people, these attacks can become recurrent and totally unexpected. And in the latter case, there’s often an underlying fear associated with having future attacks. 

When this is the case, doctors often refer to it as a panic disorder.

What to do about panic attacks?

If you experience multiple panic attacks, it’s extremely important that you think proactively about how to avoid additional ones in the future. And while there’s no surefire solution for preventing attacks, there are some practical things you can do to reduce their likelihood and/or severity. 

Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is about living in the moment and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgement. It can help you stay grounded during a panic attack. Simple mindfulness exercises, like focusing on your breath or observing your surroundings, can help bring your attention back to the present, reducing the intensity of the attack.

Grounding techniques are also helpful. These include sensory awareness exercises like naming five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. This can distract you from the panic and help you feel more connected to the world.

Identify your triggers

Understanding what triggers your panic attacks is a critical step. Triggers can be certain places, situations, or even thoughts. Once you identify them, you can start working on addressing these triggers. Sometimes, panic attacks are rooted in deeper issues like past traumas or ongoing stress. Addressing these underlying causes, possibly with the help of a professional, can reduce the frequency and intensity of your attacks.

Seek out help

Dealing with panic attacks can sometimes feel like a lonely battle, but it doesn’t have to be. Therapists and counsellors are trained to help. They can offer techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is especially effective in treating panic disorders. CBT helps you understand the thought patterns that lead to panic attacks and teaches you how to respond to them more effectively.

Find tools that work for you

Having a set of tools or strategies that you can turn to when you feel a panic attack coming on can be empowering. This toolkit might include breathing exercises, a list of soothing music, or a comforting object to hold. It doesn’t matter if it sounds silly to someone else. This isn’t about doing what other people expect you to – the key is finding what works for you. 

For some, these tools might be a set of affirmations. For others, it might be a specific relaxation technique. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you (and vice versa.) Experiment and see what helps you the most. It can take time to find the right techniques or combination of tools.

Finding a better way forward

When you’re living in the midst of frequent panic attacks, you eventually come to the conclusion that there has to be a better way. And, indeed, there is a better way forward for those who are willing to take action and do something about their condition.

Now, it’s not as easy as saying, “I don’t want to have panic attacks anymore.” In addition to intention, there also has to be some real movement and healing on an emotional level. By implementing some of the different strategies highlighted above, you can move further along this path and hopefully face a lower risk of recurring panic attacks.

Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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