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What to do if you have a Panic Attack

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Panic attacks can often feel as though they take us by surprise. Therefore, it can be helpful to think ahead and consider your triggers. In this article, we'll explore some lifestyle tips to avoid panic attacks and some strategies you can use to alleviate symptoms if you have an attack.

If you are prone to panic attacks, it can be beneficial to think ahead when going out and about. For example, make sure you have a bottle of water with you, and contact numbers of people you know you can phone who will understand how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. Consider using ICE references (in case of emergency) on your mobile phone listing your emergency contacts, and avoid shopping at busy times.

Consider buying some ‘fidget toys’ these are very popular for feelings of anxiety, and some can fit into your pocket easily without anyone knowing you have one there. Listening to calming music by using your headphones might help if you pass through busy areas such as train platforms or busy shopping precincts.

In the first instance lookout for warning signs and rate your emotions, stress and anxiety prior to a panic attack. Try to get in the habit of rating your anxious feelings out of 10 or 100 because you may then be able to forecast the severity of your looming panic attack. Therefore, acting earlier to prevent a full-blown episode.

If you begin to feel overwhelmed, here is a checklist of actions to take:

  • Move away from the place you are currently in and move into a quieter area that is safe.

  • Close your eyes or soften your gaze.

  • Focus on your breath think of a small wave slowly rolling up on a sandy beach then slowly drawing back down again.

  • Tell yourself "This will soon pass."

  • Become mindful of what you are feeling. Hot, warm, or cold? Perhaps you need to loosen clothing.

  • Open your eyes and focus on an object around you and look at it closely.

  • Now hunch your shoulders up to your ears hold for a few seconds and then release.

  • Think of your happy place this could be the beach, your garden or a happy memory. Alternatively, think of a person that makes you feel safe and secure.

  • It would be a good idea to have a circle of trust of people you could ring that you know understand and are able to give reassuring words to you over the phone (ICE).

  • Consider if you are hungry or thirsty. Water would be the ideal thing here for you to just sip slowly or spill a little out into the palm of your hand and moisten your forehead and cheeks.

  • Move three parts of your body. For example, rotate your neck, rub your arms, and wiggle your fingers.

If you are in bed or sitting in a chair:

  • The thing to do here is to redirect your anxiety and walk off your feelings. The motion of getting up and walking at a steady pace will help reduce your anxious feelings and thoughts.

  • Then engage in one or several of the strategies mentioned above.

Learn about your panic attacks each time you have one and remember the best ways that suit you. Perhaps some strategies are your go-to ones that are fail-safe that you use every time. Perhaps you use different ones at different times of the day. Alternatively, you might like to alter these formats from time to time to keep yourself continually refreshed.

How to avoid further panic attacks

Visiting a counsellor or therapist can be most effective for you to track your progress or the need for additional new strategies. Therapy on a one-to-one basis can also help you to unravel the inner ball of your anxiousness.

It will also be important to take a new look at your daily living habits. Cut down on caffeine - coffee or sugary drinks. Make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep. Whatever it is your staying up for, consider going to bed and getting up early the next morning to complete it. You will be fresher and more alert.

Reflect on your diet and any bad habits you have fallen back into, such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Get back into healthy living. Regular exercise will boost your wellbeing, confidence and improve your mood by releasing any tensions or stress that may be lingering over you.

Once again, a counsellor or therapist providing cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help change your thoughts and behaviours in this area by changing your negative thought patterns of behaviour.

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