It’s difficult to describe a panic attack to someone that has never experienced one before. While it’s true they’re a form of anxiety, they are also immensely physical. During a panic attack, a person may experience chest pains, weakness, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat – experiences that are so intense, they become their own fear.
While panic attacks may be anxiety related, it’s the physical symptoms that typically cause the most distress. A person with panic attacks often ends up fearing those very same physical symptoms, which in turn leads to more frequent and more difficult attacks.
Reducing the Severity of Attacks to Reduce the Fear of Panic
Panic attacks and panic disorder require a multifaceted approach to treatment, one that often involves therapy, lifestyle changes, and beyond. But it all starts with finding ways to reduce the severity of the attacks. The reason this is so important is because severe attacks:
- Cause more fear, which increases the frequency and severity of the attacks.
- Cause you more pain and discomfort, as the panic attacks get stronger.
- Cause you to change your life in order to avoid panic attacks.
It’s this process that causes many people to develop other conditions like depression and agoraphobia. It’s also why panic attacks often get worse long before they get better. In fact, the less people fear the panic attack (because it is less severe, and thus more manageable), the more likely they are to take back control over their anxiety and have fewer panic attacks in the future.
So, if you can reduce the severity of the attacks, then you can also make it easier for yourself to take additional steps.
Addressing the anxiety of a panic attack is complicated. It’s why so many people choose to work with an anxiety therapist – someone that they can talk to in order to learn how to reduce and prevent anxiety. But what you can sometimes prevent is the severity of the symptoms. You can do this by:
- Breathing Slower – Many of the worst panic attack symptoms come from hyperventilation. When a person breathes too fast and/or too shallow, they breathe out CO2 faster than they can make it. Hyperventilation also creates an irony – it makes you feel like you’re not getting enough air, causing you to breathe faster, yawn, or do other things to take in more air, thus making hyperventilation worse.
- Talking it Out – If you have someone in your life near you that you trust, talk through your panic attacks with them. When we have panic attacks, we often go “inside of our own heads.” Talking your symptoms to someone near you while you have them decreases some of the fear, especially if it causes you health anxiety, and also helps take you out of your own mind by sharing those thoughts in public.
- Engaging a Distraction – It can be very difficult to distract yourself during a panic attack, but every little bit can help. If you go for a walk, for example, the sights, sounds, and smells can potentially give you some light distractions that can help alleviate some of the symptoms.
We’ve created a bit of a reminder panic attack reminder checklist that you can keep with you to help you through the attacks. You can download and print the attachment here:
Panic attacks and their symptoms can manifest differently for every person, so we want to make it clear that you should discuss your specific symptoms with your therapist and work through the different causes, patterns, and more. You may find that some of the strategies may not work for you, or you need far more intentional interventions with a therapist than these provide.
Nevertheless, we hope that this checklist may be of help. If you’d like to inquire about an anxiety treatment, please contact Flourish Psychology, today.