Unless you are face-to-face with a bear or another physical danger, nothing feels more terrifying than a panic attack. Many have gone to the Emergency Room fearing heart attacks, strokes, and death. With symptoms including chest tightening, throat constricting, and faintness, it’s no wonder many seek urgent medical care! When you are begging for just one deep breath, you’ll take any help you can get.
The good news is that how long a panic attack lasts is within your power. Anxious, fear-based thoughts are what activate the internal fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline into your body. In the absence of fear-based thoughts, adrenaline will metabolize in your body in 5 minutes or less.
Here are 5 tips for reducing anxious thoughts and ending a panic attack.
- RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
- What makes a panic attack acceptable (not pleasant, but acceptable) is that, while it feels awful, it isn’t dangerous.
- Acknowledge that you are scared and beginning to panic. Do not ignore it. NOTICE how the panic works in your body. This type of intentional body-observation helps you get a little space from your emotions.
2. POSTPONE YOUR ESCAPE
- Even though you may have a strong urge to escape, hold off on that decision for a little while. Don’t tell yourself you CAN’T leave – keep that window open so you don’t feel trapped. But put off the decision about whether or not to bolt. Stay put. You don’t need to run away to get relief. Let relief come to you.
3. GET COMFORTABLE
- What is your role during an anxiety attack? It is not your responsibility to bring the panic attack to an end; that will happen no matter what you do. Your job is to see if you can make yourself a little more comfortable, waiting for the panic to subside.
- You might try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, repeating an assuring mantra, or journaling to make yourself more comfortable. A therapist can help you create a toolbox of useful coping skills.
4. TALK BACK TO NEGATIVITY
Here are examples the most common panic-inducing self-talk that fuels your panic attacks, and most importantly, what to say back:
- “WHAT IF SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS”… What does a panic attack do to your body? It makes you feel fear. And if you’re having a panic attack, the fear you’re experiencing is already the worst that will happen. Remind yourself that people don’t die/have a stroke/heart attack from panic attacks. In fact, if you invite the feelings in MORE, anxiety tends to decrease because you assure yourself that there’s nothing to fear with the feelings themselves.
- “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME??” Make a statement of acceptance: “This is happening to me because I have a problem with anxiety. That’s just a part of my life right now. It’s uncomfortable, but I can deal with it.”
- “IT WOULD BE AWFUL IF I PANICKED IN FRONT OF MY BOSS (OR AT SCHOOL OR THE MOVIE THEATER OR SOME OTHER SETTING).” Thoughts like this can reveal deeper core beliefs about how you relate with the world around you. For example, “Don’t show weakness;” “I must appear perfect;” “I’m in this alone and no one understands me;” “I’m not good enough.” “Failure is not an option.” A therapist can help you customize a more positive or balanced self-talk response that is customized to your specific social fear.
- “IT’S NEVER GOING TO END.” Talk back to this thought by reminding yourself to work WITH the anxiety symptoms (not against). Remember that EVERY SINGLE panic attack will end, no matter of how you respond.
5. RINSE & REPEAT
- You may start to feel better, but don’t be surprised if another wave of anxiety follows. Your first reaction might be, “Oh no!” You might even tense up more, thinking “It didn’t work!” This REPEAT step is here to assure you that it’s okay if that happens. Just take it from step one again. It’s normal and in no way dangerous.
A therapist from Star Meadow Counseling can assist you with fine-tuning these skills and re-directing those terrifying, anxiety-inducing thoughts.