How To Stop A Panic Attack: 7 Effective Strategies You Can Use
The rumours are true, I am a weird scarlet-haired combination…
“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.” – Christian Nestell Bovee.
Let’s imagine you are out in the jungle, walking on the vibrant carpet of grass, eyes glued on the trees and every beautiful surrounding. And all of a sudden, you see a huge lion right in front of you, looking into your eyes. Feeling endangered, the immediate symptom you would have is fear and a fight-or-flight response. You would have an adrenaline rush, sweating, a pounding heart, hyperventilation (fast breathing). In such cases, what you are experiencing is a panic attack and the source from where it emerges is obvious; the lion.
But, what happens when you are just running errands, sitting in your home, seeing a play in the theater or driving your car, and all of a sudden the same strange sensation you could feel when encountering a lion or any dangerous situation, overtakes your whole body? Well, that may be a panic attack too. Except, in these situations, you will feel all the symptoms much more intensely, as there is no source or real problem to detect, so all you are left is the symptoms and questions “What and why is happening to me?”
“A fight-or-flight response”
So, a panic attack is a period of intense, overwhelming, often temporarily disabling sense of extreme apprehension, panic, or psychological distress, typically of abrupt onset. It is accompanied by an explosion of physical symptoms that are uncomfortable and very similar to having heart attack symptoms, and emotional symptoms related to fear and terror, which are most of the time not in proportion to the true situation.
During a panic attack, which can also be described as an evolutionary body response; fight-or-flight response, the body releases large amounts of adrenaline into the bloodstream, which makes you feel like you are faint and you are detaching from this world. You find yourself trapped in your own head while floating somewhere outside, looking back at yourself, wondering what you are doing. Fighting for breath is your struggle and the floor feels unstable, even though it feels normal for everyone else. You feel like you are in a dream and you are screaming but you can’t make any noise. Your entire body is feeling everything and nothing, all at once.
Fortunately, panic attacks don’t last for too long generally. They can be brief to less than 10 minutes, although some of the symptoms may persevere for a few hours or may occur in succession.
Photo by Ernest Brillo on Unsplash
Panic attack symptoms
When it comes to symptoms of a panic attack, there is a turmoil of feelings which strike without warning. A panic attack is an extreme wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Symptoms that accompany a panic attack may vary and can be unrelated to what is happening around you.
Several of the following symptoms are related to panic attack experiences:
– Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
– Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
– Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
– Feeling a loss of control
– Derealization (feelings of unreality)
– Depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
– Feeling of choking
To know more about panic attack symptoms and causes, read here: Everything You Need To Know About Panic Attack Symptoms And Causes
How to stop a panic attack?
The very first step you should do when you get the very first symptom is not to worry about what’s happening. It might be easier said than done but think of it as just a symptom, which can be overcome. The more you worry about the first symptom, the quicker you are approaching the whole vicious circle of symptoms-anxiety-more symptoms-panic attack. Search for the source which triggers the very first symptom, be it habits and things that you are not even aware of; whether it’s a certain place, a crowded space, a situation where all the attention is at you, smoking, excessive caffeine intake, or major changes in life.
To get a clear view of what you should be doing when you start to feel a panic attack and need to calm yourself down, here are a few techniques to use:
1. Recognize you are having a panic attack
If you have experienced a panic attack in the past, you can easier recognize when you are about to have another attack. Such past experiences can help you remember that they pass and cause no physical harm, despite the acute feelings they cause.
Always remember to acknowledge that the attack is a brief period of concentrated anxiety and that it will end soon without any serious consequence.
If you are experiencing an attack for the first time, it is advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Some symptoms that associate with panic attacks are similar and can indicate heart attacks or strokes.
2. Splash cold water on your face
Whenever you want to bring yourself to ‘reality’ and bring down your heart rate, splash cold water on your face, or simply take a cold bath. A research shows that cold-water face immersion or FI produces physiological changes by stimulating the parasympathetic system. It activates the vagus nerve, brings down the heart rate, and activates your immune and digestive system. This is due to what hides behind our eyeballs, which makes it a powerful area of stimulation for the vagus nerve.
3. Take a deep breath
One of the panic attack symptoms we mentioned above was hyperventilation, which is upsetting the balance between inhaling and exhaling. So, when you start to breathe fast, you breathe in oxygen more than you breathe out carbon dioxide. According to Healthline, during hyperventilation, low carbon dioxide levels result in narrowed blood vessels that carry blood to the brain, leading to lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers. If you can’t control hyperventilation and the symptom gets severe, it can lead to loss of consciousness.
That’s why one of the techniques on how to stop a panic attack is deep breathing. If you are able to control the way you breathe, you are less likely to experience hyperventilating, which is related to other symptoms and the panic attack itself.
Focus on your breath! Inhale for a count of four, hold it in for a second, and exhale for a count of four.
Let it all go with your breath!
4. Massage your scalp with lavender oil
A research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy lowered cortisol levels by as much as 31% and boosted dopamine by 31% and serotonin by 28%. Massaging your scalp while having a panic attack, will send blood circulation to the brain and reduce the muscle tension in the back of the head and neck.
You can choose any oil you want, however, studies have found that lavender oil can reduce mental stress and increase alertness. So, give it a try!
5. Eat dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps keep you calm. Only one square contains 327 milligrams or 82% of your daily value. Dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain and boosts its ability to conform to stressful situations.
A study has shown that persons who consumed 74% dark chocolate twice daily for two weeks, had decreased levels of stress hormones commonly associated with anxiety, such as catecholamines and cortisol.
6. Listen to binaural beats or waves
Discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, binaural beats use low-frequency tones and brainwave entrainment to influence mood, make the listener feel relaxed, calm, and have control over pain. According to Brainwave Power Music:
This is done is by playing two tones or signals of varying frequencies, one in each ear. The brain then receives both tones and detects the differences between the two, and then processes the difference to create its own third signal, which is what’s defined as the binaural beat. This third signal, which contains low-frequency pulses, affect the mind and do anything from simply relax the person to improve their cognitive abilities and their mental awareness.
So, these beats make your brain resonate to or ‘follow the beat’ of the third signal, which will result in brain activity changes. This effect is called the “Frequency following response’, and was discovered by biophysicist Gerald Oster.
Just close your eyes, listen to binaural beats and imagine the happiest place you would want to be, e.g. at the beach, concentrating only on the ebb and flow of the water, and notice how your heart palpitations slow down gradually.
Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash
7. Practice mindfulness
Through mindfulness practice, you can improve the connection between you and your anxious thoughts and feelings that surface during a panic attack. Since a panic attack can cause derealization (feelings of unreality) and depersonalization (detaching from oneself), mindfulness can help you curb your panic attack. You will be more self-aware about what is happening around you, and that what you are going through is not something life-threatening and can be overcome.
So, to create some distance from your anxiety, bring your attention to each of the senses, grounding yourself in the present. You can start from the sense of touch by digging your feet into the ground or feeling the texture of your clothes on your hands. Focus all your attention and energy in your surroundings or a particular object. Try to describe their variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and patterns.
Shift your awareness to sounds. Listen and notice what you hear in your environment. Pick out the quietest sound you hear, or the loudest sound you hear.
Move to your sense of smell. Try to find what kind of smells can you notice. Such specific sensations will give you something real and objective to focus on.
As you are describing those objects to yourself or trying to find what kind of smell you can sense, you won’t even notice your panic symptoms have already subsided. There is nothing wrong with you or the world anymore. It never was.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.