5 Techniques to Prevent a Panic Attack Before It Starts
Your heart begins to race. It feels like it’s about to burst through your chest. You feel yourself start to sweat. Your chest hurts. You feel like you can’t breathe - like you are about to throw up. Your hands are shaking.
Anxiety can become debilitating and panic attacks are seriously scary. They come on quick and make you feel out of control. The worst part is that you can start to become even more anxious about when - and if - you might have a panic attack. It can become a vicious circle.
What exactly is a panic attack? A panic attack is defined as “an episode of intense fear or apprehension that is of sudden onset.”
About 2-4% of the general population experience these episodes.
The good news? They are entirely treatable.
Stress management and relaxation techniques combined with therapy (which we highly recommend if you suffer from any panic or anxiety disorder) significantly reduce the onset of panic attacks. What kind of techniques should you be trying? Here are 5 strategies you can try to stop your next panic attack:
1. Try Deep Breathing Techniques
This stress management and relaxation technique might sound obvious enough. But in the heat of the moment - and when you’re in serious panic mode - it’s easy to forget. Also, if you don’t practice it, it makes it harder to implement in the moment.
Most people recognize panic attacks when someone starts hyperventilating. Thus, controlling your breathing through deep breathes has the ability to calm you down and prevent the onset of a panic attack altogether. It relaxes you.
So, how do you do it?
If a meditation or breathing class is available in your area, it might be worth checking out. If not, use the following steps to practice deep breathing - and then use it when you feel a panic attack coming on.
- Step 1: Breathe in through your nose. Take a big and deep breath and count to 5 as you do so.
- Step 2: Let that breath fill up your chest and your belly.
- Step 3: Slowly breath out on a count of 5 in a similar fashion.
- Step 4: Try doing the same 3 steps, but through your mouth. You can also practice it by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. It mostly comes down to what feels best for you and what relaxes you the most. Go through Steps 1-3, 5-10 times.
2. Distract Yourself
Easier said than done. But it works for a lot of people. And there are different ways to do this.
One way is by focusing all your attention on a particular object or spot in front of you - whatever catches your eye. Take in everything about that object. Describe its shape, colour, texture, and size to yourself. Bring all your concentration, focus, and energy onto this object.
Or imagine your happy place. Imagine every aspect of being there. What does it look like? Feel like? Smell like? What is around you? Go through every detail with all of your senses.
You can also repeat a mantra over and over again. Choose one that resonates with you and calms you.
Lastly, you can simply close your eyes. Sometimes the stimuli around you triggers an attack. And that’s okay. Just simply shut your eyes and narrow in on taking deep breaths and getting through that moment.
3. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Muscle relaxation techniques help you gain back control. It’s a great stress management and relaxation technique for anyone - but it can also specifically help you out during those dire moments of panic.
How does it work? You relax one muscle group or body part at a time. And it becomes easier with practice.
If it is new to you, try starting with once a day. Set aside 15-20 minutes for your first session. You can either close your eyes or keep them open. Practice standing, or sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Start at your feet. Slowly relax them. Feel how heavy your feet, then your legs feel. Allow all the tension to fade. Continue to do this systematically up your body - relaxing one part at a time.
Again, practice helps - especially if you intend on using this technique to halt panic attacks in their tracks.
4. Ground Yourself By Practicing Mindfulness
A common symptom of panic attacks are feelings of detachment. You feel out of control - like you’re losing your grip on reality. In order to combat this, practice mindfulness. Bring yourself back down to earth.
Take in the sensations and items around you. A simple way to tune into the now is by taking note of 4 things you see, 3 things you can touch (such as the pocket of your jeans), 2 things you smell, and 1 thing that you taste. These things and sensations root you in the moment. They also force you to look externally rather than internally - helping calm you down.
5. Recognize What is Happening
You can get through a panic attack. It’s not a heart attack. You will be okay. It’s only temporary. Tell yourself these things each and every time. It can help alleviate the feelings of doom and fear of dying. In turn, you can narrow in on how to stop them from happening - instead of focusing on the often overwhelming fear that takes over during an attack.
Take Back Control of Your Life
Don’t let your panic attacks rule your day-to-day. Start taking back control. Begin practicing any of the 5 techniques above - or even a combination of them - to help you get back in the driver’s seat of your life.
And don’t hesitate to seek out help when you need it. Talk to someone. It’s absolutely okay. Sometimes we all need a little help. A professional can also aid you in coming up with techniques suited to you and your lifestyle - as well as help you practice them.
Our last tip is to be open about it with your family and friends. Give them the opportunity to understand what you’re going through. And hey, they’ll likely be there for you if you need them. Plus, we all need a little more relaxation in our lives - maybe they’ll even practice these techniques with you. Give them a chance, and start using stress management and relaxation techniques today.
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