Panic attacks are scary. Like absolutely terrifyingly scary.
Your heart is racing so fast it feels like it’s going to explode out of your chest.
You break into a cold sweat.
Your surroundings are spinning out of control.
You pretty much feel like the whole world is about to come to an end.
Or at least YOUR world.
Although my anxiety rarely grows into full-on panic and I’ve probably had less than 10 panic attacks in my entire life, it’s an experience that’s not easily forgotten. It’s not something you can easily wipe out of your mind and move on from.
But you know what? It IS possible to learn how to deal with panic attacks so they don’t become a cloud that’s always hanging over your head.
It IS possible to lead a perfectly satisfying life even if your body has made it known that it’s capable of turning on the alarm bells BIG time.
So if panic attacks are something you struggle with, here’s how I recommend dealing with them, based on my own experience.
How To Deal With Panic Attacks
1. See Panic Attacks As A Sign
When your body needs something that you are not delivering, it’s going to ask for it.
Only it can’t talk, so it uses more subtle communication.
When your body needs food, it’s going to make your stomach growl or make you feel light-headed.
When your body needs sleep, it’s going to make you yawn or give you brain fog.
And when your body needs stress relief, it’s going to give you a tension headache, make you feel exhausted, or – in some cases – give you panic attacks.
All of these – headaches, exhaustion, panic attacks – are signs that your body is under more stress than it can handle.
Which particular signs your body chooses to use depends on genetics. Some people are prone to headaches. Others are prone to panic attacks.
The exact level of stress your body can tolerate before asking for help is also highly individual. Some people are born more sensitive than others. Some people have had life experiences that make them more reactive to stress. And some people have been taught better stress management techniques than others.
These individual differences are the reason why your body can start acting up in the form of panic attacks when someone else has no reaction to the same amount of stress or has a different reaction.
Panic attacks are a pretty extreme form of your body acting up, but I like to compare them to headaches to keep myself from overreacting to them.
Headaches are unpleasant, but they are not going to kill me, they always end eventually, and there are things I can do to cope with them. They are simply one of my body’s alarm bells ringing to let me know I need to take better care of myself.
And so it is with panic attacks. Panic attacks are unpleasant, but they are not going to kill me, they always end eventually, and there are things I can do to cope with them. They are simply one of my body’s alarm bells ringing to let me know I need to take better care of myself.
2. Accept That You Will Have More Panic Attacks
Panic attacks do have a whole bunch of life ruining potential. The experience can be so terrifying that the potential of having another panic attack totally stresses you out.
It can easily become a cycle where being afraid of having a panic attack causes so much stress that you become more likely to have another panic attack. And another… And another…
To break this cycle, you need to stop trying to NOT have panic attacks. Accept that you WILL definitely have another panic attack at some point.
Instead of trying to avoid panic attacks, make a coping plan instead. When you have your next panic attack (which will happen for sure), how will you cope?
Even though my own anxiety tends toward lower-grade dread more than all-out panic, I know my body is capable of taking me to that place, and I have no doubt it will do so again at some point. I mean, I probably have fifty or so years of life left, so I will almost DEFINITELY experience another panic attack in my lifetime.
And when I do, here’s my coping plan:
- Breathe calmly and slowly through my nose into my belly to let my brain know that I’m not actually about to fight or flee.
- Do a grounding exercise by finding:
- 3 things I can see
- 3 things I can hear
- 3 things I can smell
- Wait for it to pass. Because I KNOW it will.
3. Address The Root Causes Of Your Panic Attacks
You know what I used to do with all the signs my body was sending me? I used to silence them by force:
- I would drink caffeine to stop feeling tired.
- I would take larger-than-recommended doses of Tylenol or Advil to stop the headaches.
- I would take Xanax to keep calm.
The problem here was that I was simply masking symptoms. I was not addressing the root causes of my bad feelings. Instead of listening to my body and giving it what it needed, I was ignoring its calls for help. And therefore, I was never able to truly heal.
That was a mistake of mine I hope you won’t repeat. 🙂
Panic attacks are a sign from your body letting you know that something has gone wonky with your stress response system. You may not even be consciously aware of any stressors, but your brain fires up your nervous system anyway. Your brain is putting you in all-out fight-or-flight even though there is no clear immediate threat present. No bear to fight. No tiger to flee from.
The question is why? Why is this happening to you? What does your body need from you in order to stop acting up?
And no, it’s not just you stressing out about having another panic attack that’s causing them. You weren’t freaking out about having them before you had the first one, right?
The root cause that needs to be addressed could be any or all of the following:
- A medical problem. Sometimes panic attacks can be caused by medical problems, such as cardiac, thyroid, or blood sugar issues. When you first start experiencing panic attacks, it’s good to consult a doctor to rule out such issues.
- Internal stress. Your stress response system can malfunction, because your body doesn’t have what it needs to function optimally. Maybe you are not getting enough good quality sleep. Maybe you are sedentary too much of the time. Maybe your diet is imbalanced or lacking in some nutrients. The solution? Fix your sleep, stay active, and improve your diet.
- External stress. Your stress response system can also malfunction from sheer overload of stressful circumstances. Maybe you have simply been exposed to too much taxing crap without sufficient time to recover in between. The solution? Remove unnecessary stressors from your life and learn techniques for managing those stressors that you can’t or don’t want to remove.
Now, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t help you with #1. But I do have a whole bunch of experience with #2 and #3. In fact, my Conquer Your Anxiety eBook Bundle is all about keeping internal and external stress at bay so you can stay calm and actually enjoy your life! Click here for all the details. 🙂
And wanna know one more thing that helps?
Learning that you are not alone.
If you have experienced panic attacks, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!