3 Steps to End a Panic Attack
Panic Attacks Are Very Common
Many people experience panic attacks and live their lives avoiding situations that frighten them, in many cases they limit their lives. A panic attack can feel catastrophic to a person and they can lose all sense of perspective. It is possible to understand and ease a panic attack with the right information and encouragement.
What Is A Panic Attack?
- A panic attack is a condition of adrenaline being released into your bloodstream. A message of fear sends a signal to the adrenal glands that there is an emergency.
- The adrenal glands are pea-sized organs that sit on top of your kidneys. They are filled with adrenaline that, when released into your body, gives you heightened abilities to respond to emergency situations. This emergency response causes physical symptoms that many people misinterpret as a heart attack or other serious physical conditions. Misinterpreting these symptoms can cause the fear response to continue.
Here's How It Works
- Adrenaline causes the heart to pump extra blood. This extra blood gets pumped into your major muscles to increase your ability to run fast and to increase the strength in your arms. Extra blood also goes into your brain to give you heightened abilities to respond to the emergency.
- It takes three minutes from the time that your brain sends the emergency signal until your body is fully adenylated with extra blood in your large arm and leg muscles and in your brain.
- In that three-minute period you experience your heart pumping hard and extra blood flowing throughout your body. As long as your adrenal glands keep getting an emergency message, they continue to produce and release additional adrenaline and another hormone called Cortisol. Once your brain stops signalling an emergency, your adrenal glands hold the adrenaline instead of releasing it.
- Your body is a complex system that is built to survive, which is why is has mechanisms like the fight or flight response. In a life-threatening situation, you will need to run fast!
- However, when a hormonal imbalance causes the fight or flight to be triggered at the slightest discomfort, concern or emotional situation all the reactions your body would need to confront or escape a dangerous situation are triggered except that the dangerous situation never occurs.
- Your lungs overwork themselves trying to capture extra oxygen to send to your heart, and your heart pounds, sending newly oxygen-rich blood to every part of your body. The only problem is, your body doesn't need or use it, which confuses it and causes it to send you distress signals such as dizziness and nausea.
This biological reaction needs a biological response – breathing properly will calm the adrenaline and cortisol production, re-oxygenate your brain and enable you to return to a more balanced physical (and thus emotional) state.
- It takes three minutes for your adrenal glands to fill your body with the adrenaline response. It also only takes three minutes for your body to stop the adrenaline reaction. If you stop a panic attack as soon as it starts, the reaction only has to last for three minutes.
A panic attack is a biological event with an emotional trigger
The three Steps:
- Relax – drop your shoulders, let your body ‘sink’ a little
- Accept Your Feelings - tell yourself “this is a panic response, I am safe, my body is reacting”
Step 1. Relax.
Consciously calm yourself by remembering that you are having a panic attack and that nothing more serious is happening to you. Change your physical position – if you are sat down get up and walk around. If you are walking go to another area. If possible get some fresh air. You are trying to interrupt the anxiety response, to decrease adrenaline production and start the rebalancing process.
Step 2. Breathe
Relax by taking slow, deep, complete breaths like this:
- Breathe in through you nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for 1 count and then blow out through your mouth for a count of 4. If possible really blow the air out so you can hear it (like you are blowing up a balloon)
- Continue to take slow, deep, complete breaths in this pattern. Slow, deep, complete breaths will relax your body, which is the first step to reversing the release of adrenaline.
- Repeat this pattern of breathing for as long as it is needed.
Step 3. Accept Your Feelings.
Accepting your feelings is very important. Minimizing this experience usually serves to perpetuate it.
Start by identifying what emotion you are feeling. Most panic attacks are caused by the emotion of fear or some variation of fear. Identify the emotion you are feeling and find the reason that you feel it.
Validate that feeling and the reason for it. If you are having a panic attack before giving a speech, you are afraid because it's scary. Stage fright is a common cause of fear and panic. If you're afraid that you're having a heart attack, it's certainly valid to be afraid of that. If you are afraid of footsteps behind you on the street it's reasonable to be afraid that something bad might happen to you.
Fear is a positive emotion that reminds you to take care of yourself.
Listen to your feelings, take good care of yourself, and keep your emotions in proportion to the situation by keeping an appropriate perspective.
Brainstorm the kinds of fearful thoughts that bring on panic for you and then make a long list of coping statements that you can look at when you need to rather than trying to think of coping statements in the middle of a panic attack.