Millions of Americans are impacted by panic attacks, yet everyone is embarrassed or afraid to talk about it. Because many aren’t aware of what they are experiencing and then find out that their physical symptoms are psychological in nature, it can be confusing and extremely overwhelming. As a result, most do things that are counterproductive to try to get the panic attack to go away. They call for help, rev up when it’s more helpful to wind down, speed up their breathing instead of slowing it down and try to will the panic attack away instead of doing nothing and waiting for it to pass.
The great news is, like most anxiety disorders, panic attacks are 100% treatable. Below are five tips to start the healing process from panic attacks. Rewiring the brain is a process and though these tips are a helpful start, it will take practice and patience to recover.
TIP # 1 Do Nothing
This tip will go against every instinct you have during a panic attack. Your brain will try to convince you that you’re in danger and you have to save yourself. It’s actually doing what it was designed to do. It’s the high alert system in our brains that keep us safe from actual danger. For example, if we were confronted by a bear in the woods, you’d experience the same symptoms as a panic attack because your brain is reacting to danger, preparing you to run and seek safety. During a panic attack, however, there is no danger, so instead of running to seek safety, do nothing. Pretend like what you’re experiencing is a hologram of a train. Like the hologram, when it’s coming right at you, it seems really scary, but when it hits you, nothing happens. Just let the emotions and sensations hit you without responding to them, teaching you and your brain that nothing will happen and you’re not in danger.
TIP # 2 Practice Acceptance
This tip kind of coincides with the first and that is to practice total acceptance. Accept the fear, anxiety and panic so much that you welcome it along for the ride. Allow your thoughts to come and go without judgment. Don’t try to get it to stop, don’t wish it away, and don’t try to figure out why you’re panicking. Just acknowledge it, accept it and keep doing whatever you were doing prior to the panic attack. So, if you’re out shopping at the grocery store, continue shopping with the panic. If you’re cleaning the kitchen, continue cleaning the kitchen with the panic. The emotions from panic lasts about 90 seconds, any emotional response after that is a choice. Choosing to accept and not react teaches your brain that you don’t have to do anything to make the panic pass.
TIP # 3 Practice Patience
As you do nothing and accept what you’re feeling, the third tip is to be patient. Initially, it will be hard to do nothing in response to panic and anxiety while just accepting the sensations that come with it, but it’s important to be patient with yourself and the process. Accepting that you will panic, even expecting it and then being patient while it passes helps to defuse it.
TIP #4 Face Your Fear
Panic attacks can be terrifying, yet the only way to overcome them is to experience them. When we experience them and learn to change our reaction to them, they don’t last as long and start to lose their power. So, the next time one hits, consider it an opportunity to practice changing your response to them by facing your fear of them.
TIP # 5 Practice Self-Compassion
Panic attacks can be debilitating and exhausting. Being kind and gentle with yourself is very important as you work to recover from them. Celebrate every single win along the way, no matter how small. Allow yourself to be human instead of beating yourself up for being unable to be who you once were. This process is hard and it takes so much courage and strength to acknowledge that and then take the necessary steps in order to heal.