Experiencing a sudden and unexpected panic attack can be frightening. In many ways, a panic attack mimics a heart attack. Those experiencing such events often fear they are having a heart attack, with many heading to the emergency room only to be told that they were experiencing severe anxiety.
In recovery, feelings of anxiety can sometimes be overwhelming. If you should suddenly experience a powerful wave of anxiety, it might be a panic attack. Continue reading to learn more about overcoming a panic attack.
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks typically come out of nowhere and strike with little warning. The symptoms can be so disturbing that the individual truly believes they are dying.
Symptoms tend to last from 5-20 minutes on average, and involve four or more of the following:
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fear of losing control
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
- Choking feeling
- Numbness or tingling
- Feeling detached from reality
- Intense dread, feeling threatened
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks are rare events that tend to emerge quickly and without warning, and then dissipate.
Panic disorder, on the other hand, is a mental health condition that affects 2.7% of adults each year.
This disorder induces repeated panic attacks for no discernable reason, causing the individual to change behaviors in order to avoid them. Many with panic disorder become isolated — afraid to leave their homes for fear of having another panic attack.
While the symptoms of a panic attack are not to be taken lightly (their similarity to a heart attack can make them especially tricky to diagnose for those who also suffer from heart ailments), some initial coping mechanisms are worth trying.
Coping with panic attacks
If you feel a panic attack coming on, you can immediately begin to manage its effects. The following techniques can help mitigate the impact of a panic attack:
- Focused breathing. Breathe in through the nose for five seconds; hold the breath for seven seconds; slowly exhale through the mouth to a count of five. Repeat this pattern 5-10 times.
- Self-talk. Repeat an affirming statement, like a mantra. These might include “This will pass soon,” “I am fine,” “I won’t die from this,” or “Just ride this out.”
- Distract yourself with a soothing activity. Any activity that brings peace and calm can help quell the effects of a panic attack. Try a simple exercise such as counting every white car you see, lighting a scented candle or playing relaxing music — anything you wish.
- Relax your muscles. Sit down and clench a muscle group, holding it to a count of five, and then release. This can help distract you and relax your body.
- Practice mindfulness. This type of meditation focuses the practitioner on the present moment. During a panic attack, mindfulness allows you to fully accept feelings of fear while assuring yourself that it is a transient event and will soon be over.
- Rest quietly. Because a panic attack can be upsetting, it is often best to find a quiet place to sit and wait it out. Once seated, close your eyes and practice deep breathing.
If symptoms fail to subside after 20 minutes or so, know that you can contact a medical professional for advice.
If you have already done so and found that you are prone to panic attacks, knowing that what you are feeling is a panic attack, and not a heart attack, is half the battle. If you are concerned about your health, see a doctor for a full physical exam. If there is no health issue or heart disease present and you experience a panic attack, just remind yourself that it will soon pass.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.