If you’ve ever experienced sudden, intense fear for no apparent reason, it might have been a panic attack. Panic attacks have no obvious trigger, which makes them unpredictable. You can even have a panic attack in your sleep.
Panic attacks can be severe and disruptive. Due to fears of having an episode in a public place, you may start avoiding crowded locations or activities that make you nervous. In extreme situations, you might dramatically restrict your life.
Panic Attacks vs. Anxiety Attacks
You may hear people use the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” interchangeably, but these two experiences are not the same. The most notable distinctions are duration, severity and causes.
- Duration: An anxiety attack may leave you on edge for several days in anticipation of a stressful experience like a job interview. In contrast, panic attacks begin without warning and subside after a few minutes.
- Severity: While an anxiety attack can cause elevated stress levels for a few days, panic attacks involve an abrupt onset of terror. In the grip of a panic attack, you might feel like you’re dying.
- Causes: Unlike an anxiety attack, a panic attack has no evident cause.
Panic attacks typically include symptoms like these:
- A sense of unavoidable doom or danger
- A rapid, pounding heart rate and chest pains that may make you wonder if you’re having a heart attack
- Sweating, shaking, and trembling
- Hyperventilating or feeling tightness in your throat
- Chills and hot flashes
- Feelings of losing control or being detached from reality
Strategies for Stopping a Panic Attack
Most people only have a few panic attacks in their lifetimes, but if you experience them more regularly, you should learn coping strategies for stopping a panic attack when you feel one coming on. Here are some grounding techniques you can use to take the power back.
1. Use Deep Breathing Exercises
The shortness of breath that comes with a panic attack can intensify the fear. If you can get your breath under control, you might feel better sooner. Breathe in for a count of four, hold it for a second, then breathe out for a count of four. If you’re in a noisy or bright environment, it might also help to close your eyes while you focus on your breath.
2. Find a Focus Object
For some people, focusing all their attention on one single point helps distract them from their panic attack. Choose one nearby object and catalog everything you notice about it. Describe its color, shape, size, and weight in minute detail. In doing so, you may feel your symptoms receding.
3. Remind Yourself This Is Temporary
While you might feel a powerful sense of impending doom during a panic attack, it’s essential to recognize that you are not dying and that your experience will be relatively brief. You might want to repeat a phrase like “I am not dying” or “It’s going to be OK.”
Accredited Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment
Panic attacks are a hallmark of anxiety disorder, which can have ripple effects if left untreated. For example, trying to manage your anxiety with drugs and alcohol can lead to a substance use disorder. At Lakeside-Milam, we understand the complexities of co-occurring disorders and have earned accreditation for our commitment to safety, dedication to our clients, and focus on upholding stringent standards of care.
Across our seven locations in western Washington, our team has helped more than 100,000 people overcome the disease of addiction and break the cycle of guilt, shame, and desperation that characterizes a chemical dependency. Reach out to our experts 24/7 for a free substance use evaluation.