Tips for Recognizing the Signs of Panic Attacks and How to Manage Them

Posted September 16, 2023 in Mental Health No Comments »

While stress and anxiety can be a normal part of life, sometimes these feelings become intense enough to trigger signs of panic attacks. These overwhelming emotional experiences can leave you feeling incapacitated, drained, and lost. However, understanding panic episodes allows you to develop effective coping strategies and regain a sense of control.

Here are some signs of panic attacks to help you recognize a panic attack and tips for managing these episodes. 

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an episode of strong anxiety or fear linked to perceived danger instead of a real threat. These sudden attacks come with a variety of physical and cognitive symptoms. While signs may vary on a case-by-case basis, familiarizing yourself with the symptoms lets you identify panic attacks and use healthy coping strategies. 

Physical signs of a panic attack include shaking, irregular heartbeat, breathlessness, dizziness, sweating, dry mouth, stomach cramps, and nausea. Panic episodes can cause cognitive symptoms like feeling detached from reality, a loss of control, and confusion. Attacks typically last around 5-20 minutes but can persist for up to an hour in some cases. 

While they share some characteristics, panic attacks differ from anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks are commonly triggered by stressors that build up over time, while panic attacks usually pop up suddenly and without warning. Multiple unexpected attacks can be an indicator of a panic disorder. If you suffer from a panic or anxiety disorder, a provider might prescribe a medication like Lexapro or another antidepressant to manage symptoms. 

To receive an official diagnosis, a healthcare provider will consider your symptoms and medical history and possibly run some tests. These tests rule out conditions like heart disease or thyroid disorders with similar symptoms. Factors such as family history, other mental health conditions, and adverse childhood experiences could increase your risk of a disorder.

Tips for Managing Panic Attacks 

Understanding what panic attacks are can help you recognize them and know when you need to use a managing technique. Luckily, there are many ways to approach handling panic attacks. Here are just a few:

1. Focus on Your Breathing 

Breathing techniques are powerful tools to manage the effects of a panic attack and help you restore a sense of calmness. When you feel an episode coming on, find a comfortable position to sit or stand. Next, take a slow and deep inhale through your nose for a count of four. You will then hold your breath for the exact count and exhale for four beats as well. Pause for a moment and begin the exercise again.

Try a visualization strategy if you cannot perform a counted technique. This approach works by imagining the air entering your body as a smooth, calm energy. On the exhale, you can picture the tension leaving your body and peace slowly returning. Once you start feeling calm again, you can slowly transition to a regular breathing pattern. Be cautious that some breathing techniques could trigger some lightheadedness. If this occurs, revert to normal breathing and take a break between breathing exercises. 

2. Move Your Body 

Some panic attacks could leave you physically incapacitated but try to get your body moving if possible. This movement could be a short walk or some gentle yoga. Engaging in exercise can shift the focus away from the sensations of panic and put it toward the activity. Exercise also triggers endorphins, the brain’s natural mood enhancer and pain reliever. 

Physical activity also reduces levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are elevated during a panic attack. In addition, the movement encourages a stronger connection between your body and mind, which can ground you during stressful moments. Furthermore, regular exercise is essential for overall stress management, better sleep, boosting mood, and relieving built-up tension. These benefits can improve your mental health and decrease feelings of panic.

3. Talk it Out 

Talking it out with a therapist, family member, or trusted friend can be an effective strategy for dealing with and avoiding panic attacks. When you verbalize your thoughts and fears, they become externalized instead of trapped in your mind. This openness makes your thoughts more manageable and stress less overwhelming, therefore helping you avoid sudden attacks. 

Regarding professional help, cognitive behavioral therapy can encourage you to challenge negative thought patterns that could lead to panic attacks. A therapist works with you to build positive coping strategies and prevent negative thought spirals. Discussing your fears can also reduce the shame and stigma associated with these feelings. This openness lets you feel less isolated and more comfortable seeking help. 

girl having signs of panic attacks

4. Avoid Triggers 

Understanding what triggers a panic attack is one of the best ways to avoid future episodes. Take notice and make a list of any specific triggers that tend to provoke panic attacks. These triggers could be crowded spaces, reflecting on past traumas, or stressful relationships. Once you’ve identified these triggers, plan to minimize exposure. For example, if you know crowded spaces send you into a spiral, you’ll want to avoid big events like a concert or sporting events. 

In addition, substances like caffeine and nicotine could contribute to a heightened state of stress. Steer clear of these stimulants if they make you more susceptible to panic episodes. If your triggers are unavoidable, exposure therapy could be an option. Gradual exposure to your triggers can help desensitize you to the issue, which builds tolerance and allows you to overcome your anxieties. 

Understanding and Managing Panic Attacks 

The sudden unexpectedness of a panic attack can make you feel like you’ve lost control. While these episodes of fear can be overwhelming, they don’t have to control your life. You can gain empowerment by understanding the symptoms of a panic attack and adopting effective coping strategies. It may take time and patience to build this resilience and knowledge. Remember that panic attacks are a conquerable challenge and don’t have to interfere with you living a full and joyful life. 

Read more: 4 Subconscious Behaviors That Might Be A Cry For Help

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