When the Panic Attacks

Racing thoughts, pounding heartbeat, sweating, chills, trembling through your limbs, feeling weakness or dizziness, numb all symptoms caused by the sensation of a panic attack. Kellie Collins, a licensed professional therapist in Oregon described panic attacks as losing permission over your body’s ability to control its responses to the sense of anxiety. 

Panic attacks can be numbing and highly disruptive to daily living. In the United States, 4.7% of adults experience panic disorder at one point in their lives. Sometimes, there is no obvious trigger, feeling, or emotion that starts the snowball effect that leads to the onset of a panic attack. The uncomfortableness that is caused at the moment can be described as the sensation of fear. I often hear my clients say that after a panic attack, they will do what it takes to avoid the experience again despite the cost. In the worst of cases – that can include a daily function such as eating or sleeping. 

Collins, in her outlook on panic attacks, states that it is the fear of fear that often snowballs into an attack. The body has been put in fight, flight, or freeze response – leading to complete disruption of daily functioning in the blink of an eye. Here is the good news, and one I hope brings hope, the light at the end of the tunnel for those experiencing this type of symptom – Panic Attacks are treatable! Your body can be yours again. 

If you have ever done counseling you already know the drill – coping skills. Coping skills are what keep behavior within the body’s threshold of processing threats. By applying coping skills, you increase your emotional threshold and decrease the chances of going into fight, flight, or freeze. That is because you attend to your triggers, your needs both emotionally and physically before the snowball takes off. 

Here are some coping strategies for panic attacks:

  • Deep breathing: This is a grounding exercise that slows down your physiological response to a threat and puts the control back in your hands. 
  • Distraction: carry a small stone, key, or object close in your pocket and pull it out when the panic starts, focus on how it feels – is it rough, smooth, cold, heavy? Describe the sensation to yourself.
  • Mantras: Despite an all-consuming panic attack repeat these phrases to yourself
    • “I’ve gotten through this before”
    • “This is only temporary”
    • “Even though this feels like it’s going to last forever, it will end; it always does” 
  • Exercise: go for a walk, a run, any type of physical exercise to engage your physiological responses and distract from panic 

The worst thing to do in a panic attack is to avoid having a panic attack. The more you fight it – the faster it will escalate. Remind yourself that the sensation is uncomfortable but not dangerous. Once the panic attack – lean into your coping skills and pace yourself through the storm. 

If you would like to speak with someone about further coping skills for panic attacks, give Tx Harmony Counseling a call at (832) 352-1600 or contact us here. 

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Lu-Cheree De Jager, LPC

Lu-Cheree De Jager, LPC

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