What to do when I'm having a panic attack.

Experiencing panic attacks, can be an extremely scary experience.  For some people experiencing panic attacks can feel as though they are suffering a heart attack, while others who experience panic attacks feel as though they are experiencing asthma. While there's no real cure for panic attacks, there are several things that you can do to help manage them. Below are some tips on what to do when you are having a panic attack.

  1. Find somewhere where you can sit or lean against something
  2. Exhale slowly through your nose and let go of the tension in your muscles.  
  3. Allow your lungs to fill by themselves. Breathing is a reflexive action, if we let it go, then your lungs will fill back up by themselves without purposely trying to breathe back in.
  4. Relax your posture and muscles, allow your breathing to find its own rhythm.  
  5. Allow your mind to race. Don't fight it, let it be. Bring your attention to the flow of breath.
  6. Notice your breath flowing in and out of your nose. Notice how it's slightly cooler as you breathe in and slightly warmer as you breathe out. 
  7. If you get distracted then thank your mind for the thoughts, let them be, and bring your attention back to your breath and focus on the emotion in your body as opposed to the thoughts.  
  8. Repeat the process until you start to feel the panic pass
  9. Remember that the panic will pass if you don't fight it. Struggling with the emotions only adds fuel to the fire. 
  10. Once you feel as though the panic has passed, take a moment to notice your surroundings.  What can you see?  What can you hear? Then move on.  

It's useful to practise these steps when you're not feeling anxious so that when you need it you can access it.  If you don't practice then you won't be able to access the tool when you're in the middle of a panic attack.  That would be like turning up to a marathon without having done any long distance running at all.  

The difficult thing to come to terms with in all of this is that if you're prone from suffering panic attacks, then you're likely going to experience them at some stage even if you do everything you can in your power to prevent them. 

Why? Because you're human. 

When panic strikes it latches on to triggers we experience in our environment.  Basically, our brain looks for a reason as to why we're feeling the way we are, and if there's nothing that's seriously threatening, our brain will create a reason for us.  These triggers become stored in our long term memory for future reference.  We might not be consciously aware of this process, but if you are, it can be useful to remind yourself that the last time you felt anxious has nothing to do with now.  Now is different.  Slowing your breathing and re-directing your anxiety can be a simple and powerful tool to manage panic attacks if practised regularly.  

For more help on managing anxiety then make an appointment with one of our clinicians (03) 9882-8874

~ Dr Celin Gelgec and the team at Melbourne Wellbeing Group