Panic Attacks 101

a sudden and intense feeling of terror without the presence of danger. Panic attacks are usually brief and frightening while they last,” (What Is A Panic Attack? New Vision Psychology)

Panic attacks are common among most people who suffer from anxiety. They usually last a few minutes at most, but within those few minutes, a range of symptoms can be experienced when a panic attack strikes out of the blue: uncontrollable shivering, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, cold sweating, dizziness, and feeling detached from reality. The symptoms that are associated with panic attacks are what make them difficult to get through, as most times, they are intense enough to shake someone up for days, or weeks on end. The cause of panic attacks can be a certain trigger, or they could happen out of nowhere and for no reason, which causes more anxiety for some people. Usually, you can identify when you’re having a panic attack based on the symptoms you feel, and how intense they are. Despite how daunting panic attacks seem and feel, everyone already has the tool that they need to overcome a panic attack: knowing how to take deep breaths.

Deep breathing is the key to de-escalating panic attacks because, “For most people, drawing out their exhale is what allows their body to relax and calm down. This is due to how breathing out is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system. And this is the main reason why this breathing technique is effective for calming your nerves,” (Subdue A Panic Episode, New Vision Psychology). It may sound simple, but our body’s natural response when we feel anxious is to “breathe too much in short shallow bursts,” which “then fuels your existing feelings of panic and/or anxiety,” (Subdue A Panic Episode, New Vision Psychology). Along with the symptoms that may be experienced when a panic attack strikes, having to fight your body’s natural response in order to take deep breaths and calm your nerves down makes getting through panic attacks much more difficult. While there is no immediate cure to stopping a panic attack, forcing yourself to focus on your breath and deeply breathe can de-escalate an attack within a few minutes. 

When it comes to deep breathing, there are different methods you could use. One method is to count every inhale with odd numbers, and every exhale with even numbers. For example, your first inhale would be counted as “1,” and your first exhale would be “2,” and so on. Another deep breathing method is to count an inhale and exhale as one number. To do this, you would inhale and exhale, then count that as one breath. With the next inhale and exhale, you would count that as “2,” or your second breath, and so on. You could even skip counting your breaths completely! Whichever way works best to relieve your panic, and is easiest for you to remember is what you should use the next time you feel a panic attack creeping up on you.

– Katelyn, California

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