Always begin with a visit to your doctor or health care provider to ensure that there is not an underlying medical cause to your symptoms. Don’t self-diagnose.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Rapid heartbeat
- Inability to relax*
*(NOTE): since these can be symptoms of other medical emergencies, DON’T self-diagnose. Seek emergency medical care if this is the first time you’ve experienced this)
What Can I Do To Cope?
- RATE the panic on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning not bad at all, up to 10 meaning, call an ambulance! Anything we can MEASURE we can start to control.
- ACCEPT, don’t fight. Fighting increases the bodily symptoms.
- ASK yourself: what’s the worst that could happen here? How would I handle it?
- BREATHE normally and naturally. Pay attention to your breath.
- FOCUS on an object in the room. See it, describe it to yourself. This helps orient you in the present moment reality.
- TIME the attack (measuring again). Note how little time it actually lasts.
- NOTICE if the attacks are happening in a certain location or at a certain time (“cued” attacks.) When it passes, get out a piece of paper and write about that place or time. BE A SCIENTIST about your panic—objective, measuring, curious.
- TAKE your writings to your counselor to further explore the causes of the panic.
- REMEMBER that overcoming panic is not a matter of willpower. It is a malfunction of brain chemistry which can be helped by cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medication. Medication takes away the SYMPTOM but not the CAUSE. Therapy helps get to the root of the problem.
Remember that a panic attack won’t hurt your physically. Although it’s very uncomfortable, your body will continue to breathe and function through it. Relaxing even a small amount and observing what’s happening will give you a much-needed distance and perspective.