Did you know that around 5% of Australians will experience panic disorder in their lifetime? For those affected, panic attacks can take a real toll on their overall wellbeing. These bouts of anxiety can feel uncontrollable and unpredictable, making them even harder to live with.
The good news is that with the right information and techniques, panic attacks can be managed and overcome. Whether you experience them yourself or know someone who does, here is our simple guide to understanding and overcoming them.
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What is a panic attack?
A panic or ‘anxiety attack’ can be described as a sudden, overwhelming feeling of anxiety. In some cases, the cause of the anxiety might be known. In others, it could seemingly have no obvious cause at all.
Regardless of why it happens, these bouts of intense anxiety can be incredibly hard to manage. They are often brief, in many cases only lasting a few minutes. However, the physical and emotional symptoms can be very intense, leaving the sufferer unsure of what to do.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack:
Anxiety attacks can look different from person to person. However, there are many common symptoms, including:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach and chest pain
- Trembling and sweating
- Feeling detached from reality
- An overwhelming sense of fear or danger
- Strong feelings of distress and unease
- Inability to easily calm down
How to manage a panic attack
While experiencing a panic attack can be really hard, there are a few things you can do to help calm yourself. Here are a few of our top suggestions:
Identify your panic attack
When you’re having a panic attack, you might feel like nothing will ever be okay again. These worrying thoughts can make your anxiety even worse, which is why identifying that you’re having a panic attack can be the first step in calming yourself. Tell yourself that this period of anxiety will soon be over, and that you will be okay afterwards.
Focus on your breathing
During a panic attack, your heart-rate can quicken and make you feel out of breath. Feeling as though you can’t breathe properly may then lead to even more anxiety. This is why it’s a good idea to focus your mind on your breathing. Try breathing in through your mouth for 3 seconds, then out through your mouth for 3 seconds. Do this until your heartrate slows and you begin to feel calmer.
Go for a walk
Getting some fresh air and moving your body can help to calm yourself. A short, 5-minute walk around the block could be enough to take your mind off your anxiety and make you feel better.
Get to a safe space
Panic attacks can make us feel that we are in immediate danger. While this feeling might not be rational, going to a safe and comfortable space can help you calm down. It’s important to note that although taking care of yourself in the moment is encouraged, this approach should only be used as a short-term solution. Continuously leaving or avoiding specific situations or places can reinforce your anxiety in the long-term – which we don’t want.
The key to overcoming this problem is seeking professional help from a psychologist, who can teach you effective techniques to manage your feelings during a panic attack. Our free online service can help you find a great psychologist anywhere in Australia. It takes just a few minutes, so get started today!
Myths about panic attacks:
Panic attacks can be really scary, but there are some common (and dangerous) myths out there that can make them seem even more frightening. Here are a few misconceptions:
You can die from a panic attack
It’s important to understand that the symptoms you feel during a panic attack – such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness – cannot kill you. This can often make you feel as though something is medically wrong. However, the symptoms of a panic attack are all simply a strong physical reaction to anxiety. These symptoms and a panic attack itself cannot kill you.
However, if you are unsure whether or not you are experiencing a serious medical problem or if your symptoms persist longer than usual for a panic attack, please contact a medical professional. It’s always best to be on the safe side!
You can’t ‘cure’ panic attacks
Like any mental illness, anxiety is something that can be overcome with the appropriate treatment. If your anxiety is impacting your life or if you are regularly having panic attacks, seeing a psychologist can help. Our free online service can help you find the right psychologist for your needs anywhere in Australia – so get started today!
You can’t do anything to help someone having a panic attack
While you cannot ‘take away’ someone’s anxiety during a panic attack, you can support them. If you know that a friend or family member often has panic attacks, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about what you can do to help them. This could be something as simple as guiding them to a quiet area, getting them some water or simply giving them some space to manage the experience in a way that works for them.