How to Handle a Panic Attack
During my senior year of high school, I struggled with anxiety and experienced many panic attacks. They occurred both out of the blue and with obvious triggers. I would begin to feel like I could not breathe and then the racing heart usually started. My body would get really tense and shaky. Sometimes, parts of my body would feel tingly or numb, and I even got occasionally dizzy. With the support of my friends and counselor at school, I was able to discover some methods to cope with my panic attacks. While I still have these attacks, though less often, I am better able to handle them on my own. Although the same methods may not work for everyone, I have found some to be particularly helpful.
1. Get to a comfortable spot. When you feel a panic attack coming on, get to a peaceful place where you feel most comfortable. It may help to close your eyes to remove any extraneous stimuli.
2. Tell someone. If you are around people you are comfortable with, it is best to tell someone how you are feeling. They will help you get to a peaceful place and sometimes they can even walk you through breathing and grounding exercises. If you often have panic attacks in certain situations, it may help to talk to a friend before anything happens so he or she will know the best way to help you.
3. Deep breathing. Breathing is my go-to when it comes to coping with panic attacks. I often find myself taking shallow breaths when I am in panic mode, so it is necessary to be conscious that I am taking deep breaths from my stomach. There are many different breathing exercises you can do, so find which one works best for you. I often use one that goes like this: breathe in slowly through your nose. Hold your breath for three slow counts. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Take several more breaths like this one, and then take a minute to breathe normally. During that time, notice your breathing. Then, repeat the exercise until you feel that you have sufficiently calmed your breathing.
4. Visualization. As you breathe, visualize your happy place, or a place where you have felt at peace. For some, this may be out in nature while for others it may be curled up in bed with soft blankets and a book. Think about what the place looks like and what it feels like when you are there.
5. Relax tension. Relax all of the tension in your body. Go from head to toe, making sure each part of your body is relaxed. Move your head from side to side. Roll your neck. Drop and loosen your shoulders. Wiggle your fingers. Shake your arms out. Move your feet. Wiggle your toes. Relaxing your body will also help to relax your mind.
6. Grounding. Grounding is a way to combat the de-realization that many people experience during panic attacks. To help ground yourself, you can use the 5-4-3- 2-1 method: find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can touch. Other grounding techniques can include counting backwards from 100 by a random interval, such as counting by threes. You can also find an object in the room to focus on and try to notice everything about it. These grounding techniques help to distract yourself from some of the panic happening in your brain.
7. Remember, you will be okay. Panic attacks are only temporary. Although the feelings are incredibly overwhelming, they will pass. You are so strong and you can get through it. In the end, you will be okay. You are not alone, and there is always help available if you need it.