Panic attacks are frightening experiences. Those who have never had a panic attack and don’t have a panic disorder often find it difficult to understand what it feels like. Panic attacks are much more than a feeling of stress, anxiety or fear. Shaking, sweating, trouble breathing, pounding heartbeat, blurred vision, and a number of other symptoms accompany panic attacks. Often, people experiencing panic attacks feel afraid of dying or “losing control.” Whether you or a loved one has experienced one or numerous panic attacks, it’s essential to know how stop a panic attack, and prevent them. Each person is different, and scheduling a consultation with a therapist can help you find the coping strategies or treatment options that work best for you.
How to Stop a Panic Attack and Treat Panic Disorder
Arm Yourself With Knowledge
Panic attacks can come out of nowhere. If you’re not sure what’s happening, a panic attack is even more frightening. Being able to identify a panic attack and understand the symptoms is the first step to making panic attacks and panic disorder more manageable. Understanding what a panic attack is and how to stop a panic attack can help to break the cycle of “fear of fear,” where anxiety about a panic attack can make it more intense.
This is not a comprehensive list, but a good starting point for understanding panic attacks and panic disorder. A therapist can help you understand the condition, and your unique situation better.
- Panic attacks can feel like life or death, but you cannot die from a panic attack.
- Not all people who have panic attacks have panic disorder.
- A panic attack can last anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. After that, the feeling will subside.
- Having panic attacks does not mean you are in danger, or that you have a medical condition.
- People with panic disorder can and do have happy, successful lives.
- Panic attacks can be successfully treated with or without medication.
Talk to a Therapist about Panic Attacks
If you have a panic attack, it’s best to see a therapist as soon as you can. A professional with experience treating panic disorders can help you develop coping mechanisms and make a treatment plan to manage or even stop a panic attack.
Some people experience panic attacks in response to particular situations or fears. This may be related to phobias, past trauma, extreme stress, or abuse. In this case, a therapist can help you approach these situations safely. This treatment, called exposure therapy, can actually help to stop panic attacks and prevent them in the future.
In other cases, panic attacks are related to panic disorder. With panic disorder, attacks are often recurring, and stopping them completely is not always an option. However, panic attacks can still be preventable and manageable. The right medication can help to stop panic attacks, and psychological strategies can reduce the number and intensity of attacks.
Use Deep Breathing Exercises
When a panic attack occurs, your heart rate rises and breathing becomes fast and shallow. Deep breathing exercises are a natural remedy for panic attacks which have a twofold effect; they help to reduce heart rate and turn your focus away from fear.
When you experience a panic attack, try to slow your breathing. Count to four slowly as you breath in, hold the breath for a count of four, and then release it for another count. This will be challenging, and it’s okay if it isn’t perfect. Count and breathe as well as you can, and remember that focusing on the numbers and slowing your breathing to any extent is helpful.
During a panic attack, fear can quickly build on itself. You fear that something is wrong with you, that you’re in danger, or that a stressful situation is getting worse. This is where grounding can help. Grounding, similar to the breathing exercise above, helps you focus on your environment instead of your fear. Try one or a combination of the following; find three colors to focus on in the room, two textures or sensations (unrelated to the attack), one taste and one smell.
Mindfulness is a non-judgemental perception of thoughts and thoughts and feelings. It’s linked to meditation and several cognitive treatment plans, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. The principles of mindfulness are somewhat simple, but can have enormous benefits.
Practicing mindfulness means acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and sensations for what they are; neither good nor bad, just there. After acknowledging the thought or feeling, let it go, and refocus on your breathing, mediation, or grounding. Do this slowly, giving a name to each feeling and registering each thought, and picture yourself releasing it. This can be especially helpful if you find your mind racing.
There are many different types of meditation, but the goal of each is generally the same; to allow your mind to rest and to relax your body. Making meditation a regular part of your routine can help to decrease stress and anxiety levels, and reduce the chances of a panic attack. Set aside whatever time you can—even ten minutes can be helpful—to practice and explore meditation. You might focus on a single object, on your breathing, on stillness or emptiness, or on a word, sound, or phrase.
Understand Your Attacks with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is practiced with the help of a certified psychotherapist. This process involves approaching harmful thoughts and fears, understanding the cycles of negative thoughts, and learning coping mechanisms to manage them. Relaxation strategies, mindfulness, meditation, talk therapy and other techniques can all be a part. CBT has been shown to effectively treat panic disorder both alongside and without medication.
Medication can be used by itself or with other forms of therapy to help stop panic attacks and prevent them from recurring. There are several different options, including some medications that can be taken as needed during stressful times, and others taken on a daily basis. Your therapist can help you find a medication that works best to control your stressors.
Be Open with Friends and Family
If the people around you don’t know what a panic attack is, they won’t know how to help, and they might make the situation worse without meaning to. Tell friends and family whom you trust about your experience with panic attacks or panic disorder. Also, tell them what they can do to help. Some people who experience panic attacks prefer to be left alone, as talking or being around others can make the situation more stressful. Others benefit from a calm presence, gentle reassurances, or doing breathing exercises with someone else.
How to Stop a Panic Attack – Finding Help in Michigan
Panic attacks are frightening experiences, but they can be successfully managed and even cured. It is possible to learn how to stop a panic attack, or how to manage their intensity. Working with a therapist to understand your triggers and how or why the panic attack(s) started can help to prevent them in the future.
If you are located in Michigan, we are here at Michigan Counseling Centers to provide support and proven strategies to help you avoid panic attacks and discover the sources for your discomfort. Schedule an initial consultation at one of our locations, either in Taylor, or Bloomfield Michigan.