Have you ever had a panic attack? Panic attacks only last about five minutes, but the physical symptoms can feel extremely intense. Because of the intensity, panic attacks are often mistaken for heart attacks. Though panic attacks are short-lived, a lot of people end up in the emergency room because they don’t know what they’re experiencing.
Panic attacks can happen at times when you’re not feeling particularly anxious. Some of my clients have had panic attacks in their sleep, in the car, and even while working out.
The physical symptoms of panic attacks include: shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, tingling in the limbs, feeling like you are choking, trembling and sweating, to name a few. Some people become even more panicked by the sense that they’re loosing control and can’t breathe, which increases the release of adrenaline and cortisol, making the panic attack feel even more intense.
After having a panic attack for the first time, a lot of people fear having another one. If you’ve had a panic attack and you have this fear, you may try to avoid environments that are out of your control, such as restaurants, social settings and crowded places.
If you have this fear, know that having a panic attack once or a few times doesn’t mean it will happen continuously. Also know that when you are having a panic attack, you can calm yourself down and lessen the intensity. Don’t let fearful thoughts take over in the moment, because as soon as you have these thoughts, your body releases more adrenaline and cortisol, actually feeding the panic attack.
You can learn to calm yourself down during panic attacks by having trust and using distraction. When you begin to feel a panic attack, tell yourself that it will pass in a matter of minutes. Calm yourself by taking your attention away from the physical symptoms. To distract yourself, you can take deep breaths, talk to someone or try to think of something else.
Your body will flood itself with norepinephrine when you’re panicked, which is a relaxing hormone. The body always wants balance and homeostasis, and norepinephrine will work – just give your body a few minutes to get things back in balance and distract yourself to prevent your fear-based thoughts from creeping in.
Remember: A panic attack will always pass. Try not to avoid public places if you’ve had one or a few from time to time. You can take control as long as you release your fearful thoughts in the moment, distract yourself, and let norepinephrine do its thing. Let your body do the work, and trust it.