Have Panic Attacks? Here Are 10 Ways to Reduce & Cope With Anxiety by Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Over 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. They can strike at any time – when you're driving a car, at the mall, sound asleep or in the middle of a business meeting. What can you do to reduce and cope with panic? Here are 10 ideas:
- Calm Breathing: Taking control of breathing is the first step to controlling a panic attack. The goal is to create a slow stream of air by breathing in and out. This prevents hyperventilation and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood. It is helpful to practice mindful breathing outside of panic attacks. This equips people who experience panic attacks with the techniques designed to stop them. There are apps and YouTube videos people can watch to practice breathing techniques for panic.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Another helpful strategy is learning to relax the body. This technique involves tensing and untensing various muscle groups. This lowers overall tension and stress levels that can contribute to panic attacks. Start with the feet and work up to your forehead. Tighten the muscle while taking a deep breath in, hold for a few seconds and then release the tension while breathing out. Move up the body, one muscle group at a time.
- Mindfulness: This is the act of accepting thoughts as they come, but not letting them blow out of proportion. It is a mental framework designed to help people stay present at the moment without over-analyzing the stressful elements of life. Mindfulness incorporates many relaxation and meditation techniques.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Panic attacks can originate from thoughts that spiral into deep-seated worries. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an effective, lasting treatment for controlling panic attack symptoms. CBT is a helpful option for people who experience repeated panic attacks. CBT challenges fearful thoughts. What are you afraid will happen? Is there evidence to support these fears? A practitioner trained in CBT can equip an individual with the tools to successfully control and defuse a full-blown panic attack.
- Yoga: There are many uncomfortable physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, such as feelings of tension, tightness and pain sensitivity. Yoga postures, known as asanas, help ease the physical discomfort that is caused by anxiety. Asanas work to stretch, lengthen and balance the muscles. These postures can assist in releasing built-up muscle tension and stiffness throughout the body.
- Cut Down on Sugar and Eliminate Caffeine: Although many people can’t start their day without a cup of Joe, for panic sufferers, caffeine can trigger panic attacks because it is a stimulant and can cause people with anxiety to have palpitating hearts and shaky hands. Sugar can cause blurry vision, difficulty thinking, and fatigue, all of which may be interpreted as signs of a panic attack, thereby increasing worry and fear. A sugar high and subsequent crash can cause shaking and tension, which can make anxiety worse. While dietary changes alone cannot cure anxiety, they can minimize symptoms, boost energy and improve the body’s ability to cope with stress.
- Stop Smoking: If you think smoking calms you down, think again. A study of thousands of smokers shows that they are three times more likely than non-smokers to have panic attacks and panic disorder. Tobacco smoke may induce panic attacks in susceptible individuals. There can be other mechanisms by which smoking induces panic: the effect of nicotine for example. Nicotine has a stimulating effect on the brain.
- Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol: There are clear links between alcohol and anxiety, and between alcohol and panic attacks. Alcohol can trigger panic attacks because on a physiological level drinking can cause low blood sugar, dehydration, increased heart rate and increased levels of stress. A drink from time to time is not harmful, but when people use drinking to deal with anxiety and panic, they can experience severe consequences. Like other frequently abused substances such as caffeine or cocaine, the combination of alcohol abuse, hangover, and withdrawal can lead to an increased risk of panic attacks. As a consequence, this kind of abuse can result in both an alcohol addiction and more severe anxiety and panic disorders.
- Medication: There are many antidepressants, mood stabilizers and benzodiazepines like Valium, Ativan, Clonopin and Xanax that can help keep panic under control when combined with therapy. Antihistamines (such as hydroxyzine) and beta-blockers (such as propranolol) can help mild cases of anxiety as well as performance anxiety, a type of social anxiety disorder. Patients need to keep in mind that benzodiazepines carry the risk of tolerance and addiction and are better suited for short-term or “as needed” usage.
- Smartphone Apps to Assist With Panic Disorder: There are many great ones that exist such as Dare, Rootd, Anxiety No More, ACT Companion and Pacifica among many others.
The information on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider.
What helps you with your panic attacks?