Panic attacks are, in essence, an extreme anxious reaction.
Symptoms of panic attacks can be very intense and may include difficulty breathing properly, racing heart, sweating and shaking uncontrollably. The intensity of an attack can be severe and many people describe feeling they are having a heart attack and are going to die, or that they are going crazy. It is not unusual for people to become fearful about having another panic attack.
Some ways to manage panic or extreme feelings of anxiety are listed below:
In the Moment
- Monitor your anxiety and stress levels
It can help to think of anxiety levels on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no anxiety and 10 being the highest level of anxiety. Tune into your thoughts and the responses in your physical body related to these thoughts. You may notice your heart rate increases, or your hands feel sweaty or you can feel the sensation of 'butterflies' in your stomach. Once you reach a 5 on your anxiety scale you need to 'practice' the things that work for you in reducing stress.
- Do something physical
Get up, move around. Bounce a tennis ball. Swing your arms back and forth gently. Stretch your arms above your head and stand on your toes. Anything which gently engages your physical body and tunes you into the present moment. It can help to talk yourself through what you are doing (in your head or out loud, if you are in a private space), like a 'running commentary.' The aim of this is to distract your brain from the anxious thoughts.
- Walking meditation
Try a walking meditation exercise. This can simply be counting the steps you take up to 10 and repeating this for a number of cycles in a non-urgent and rhythmic way.
This is a commonly used technique for immediately reducing anxiety. The process is best done sitting down-but you could vary it if you need to be standing.
The steps are:
- Push your feet into the ground and notice/feel the ground beneath your feet.
- Place your hands on your thighs-noticing the feel of your clothing or skin.
- Cross your arms and hold your upper arms, again noticing the feel of your clothes or your skin.
- Look around you and count 3 things of one colour ( the colour doesn't matter).
- Now listen for 3 different sounds, mentally noting each.
- Now bring your attention to your breath and take 3 deep belly breaths.
- Do a simple yoga sequence
Yoga is great for relieving muscle tension and reinvigorating your body. View our yoga page for some simple yoga activities you can do.
- Practice Controlled Breathing
It may sound a little strange but the breath is a remarkably powerful mind-body link and a good place to start in controlling anxiety. Although we don't usually notice it, our patterns of breathing change with each different emotion we are feeling and this is also true of anxiety. Generally people who are anxious tend to breathe high into the top of the chest, breathing in only a little then holding the breath. A panic attack might be different, still breathing high in the chest but rapidly, which can lead to hyperventilation. Doing a few slow deep breaths can have a physical effect to lower the anxiety a little. If it can be cranked down a notch or two, then it is easier to think through what is best to do next to help manage it. You can watch some breathing videos here.
Simple quick breathing exercise to lower anxiety is:
- Take 3 deep breaths, breathing into the belly, not the upper chest.
- Aim to gradually slow the breath, this is calming.
- Inhale and exhale for the same length of time e.g. 4 seconds in and 4 seconds out.
- Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose.