As a therapist, one of the top concerns I hear from clients is about panic attacks. And for good reason: panic attacks can be scary, extremely physical experiences of anxiety – complete with chest tightness and pain, shortness of breath, and sweating or trembling among other not-so-endearing traits. Oftentimes, people mistake panic attacks for heart attacks and think they’re about to die.
That’s right – panic attacks are so terrible that people worry they’re dying. Folks end up in emergency rooms getting full cardiac workups (as they should! If you think you’re having a heart attack, go to the ER!) and then feeling very embarrassed when, as they later tell me with shame on their faces, “It was all in my mind.” As if ailments that begin in the mind can’t be debilitating, terrible, and affect the whole body. As if they deserve less care and compassion (which they don’t).
People who experience one panic attack tend to worry about the next panic attack. “What if I’m at a restaurant/running a business meeting/taking a test and it happens again?” they ask. Fear of a panic attack becomes almost as bad as the actual experience of a panic attack. No wonder people would rather avoid things they worry might trigger one – like restaurants, business meetings, or class. And yet if we avoid possible triggers, we might end up making our lives smaller and smaller and smaller — and less fun, meaningful and joyful.
Since avoidance only works as a short-term solution, here are a few recommendations for long-term relief:
- Make a plan of what to do if you feel a panic attack coming on. Even if panic isn’t in our control, responding to it is. Do you want to stay where you are? Find the nearest bathroom? Pour cold water over your face? Tell someone? Tell yourself, “This is a panic attack and won’t last forever”? These steps can make it easier to tolerate panic attacks if they happen.
- Deal with stress and everyday worries. Reducing overall anxiety can help reduce the chance of a panic attack. After all, it’s not usually the super-relaxed vacationers who get panic attacks. Talking through stressors can often help.
- Explore whether natural supplements, medication or any other supplementary tools may be useful. Sometimes these are helpful just to have close by just in case.
- Regular physical activity and a good sleep schedule can go a long way toward reducing your chance of a panic attack.
Want to find out more? Contact me to talk through your experience with anxiety and find out how to get some relief.