Soul Snippets

Coping With Panic Attacks

Reading time: approx. 1 minute

Here is what usually happens when a panic attack occurs:

  1. Bodily change (such as an increase in heart rate)

  2. Awareness of that bodily change

  3. Interpretation of that bodily change as dangerous (e.g. "I could die, faint, have a heart attack, everybody can see that I am out of control", "In case of an emergency nobody can help me here" etc.)

  4. Fear

... and then the circle begins:

--> further bodily changes in response to the experienced fear
--> further negative interpretation of body response
--> fear
--> further bodily changes in response to fear

... and so on.

Typical unhelpful strategies to avoid further panic attacks

  • Paying very close attention to body responses (e.g. watching out for heart beat irregularities, trying to avoid stress all together, closely monitoring of hightened activation of the circular system)

  • Avoiding (or trying to avoid) places and situations in which panic attacks previously occured

Helpful strategies / breaking the cycle

  • The realization that fear is a natural, healthy response of the body that by itself cannot harm you is essential: A panic attack is an extreme form of our natural fear response and in spite of it feeling terrible, it is still the same response that gets triggered when a fast moving car is coming towards you. Your body is giving you a great amount of energy to quickly prepare you for fight or flight. Once you stop interpreting your fear response as dangerous, your body will not take long to calm down all by itself.

  • Instead of fleeing the scene when a panic attack is happening to you, if it is in any way possible for you, it makes a lot of sense to stay right where you are and "wait out" the panic attack. Like this, your body will learn, that the scene of the attack was not dangerous after all and it will be easier for you to return to the same place in the future.

  • Be aware that a panic attack by itself will not kill you, will not make you faint, suffocate or go crazy and it will not lead to a heart attack.

  • Talk to a mental health professional who will help you to work out possible strategies in acute moments of panic as well as long-term coping strategies. S*he may also help you to get a deeper unterstanding of your unique situation including your fears and needs.

  • Be hopeful :-) Treatment success rates for panic attacks are high