If you’re right in the middle of a panic attack, this blog post is for you. I’ll walk you through how to know if it’s anxiety causing those symptoms and some practical steps to stop the panic cycle. Because you’re going to be okay. You are safe.
How Do I Tell If I’m Having a Panic Attack?
For many people, a panic attack feels like a lot of intense physical symptoms. Maybe your heart is pounding, you might feel faint or tingly, or you’re afraid that you’re going to pass out or have a heart attack. These sensations feel scary, but they’re not going to hurt you.
So first, let’s try this experiment. Does moving around make your symptoms feel slightly better or slightly worse? If walking around makes you feel a little better, that’s one indicator that this is anxiety, not a physical condition.
Panic attacks are the physical sensations of the fight/flight/freeze response going into overdrive, not a heart attack. Panic attacks are caused by being afraid of the fight/flight/freeze symptoms.
These symptoms feel really uncomfortable. They feel really scary, But anxiety and panic won’t harm you. They usually resolve within five to ten minutes, and by dropping the struggle against them you may be able to resolve them faster.
How Do I Deal With a Panic Attack?
Now, there are two approaches to dealing with anxiety attacks and panic attacks. This one is the roll-with-it method, and the other one is the calm-down method. So after watching this video, check out my other video to try the other technique too and see which one works for your situation.
The real problem is not the anxiety you’re having or the sensations that you’re having — that fast heartbeat, that rapid breathing, or the tingly or faint sensation. The real problem is the belief that these sensations are dangerous.
So if you’re struggling to calm your body down, you might think, “I can’t feel this way. I have to breathe slower. I have to calm down.” If you’re thinking these things, you’re essentially telling your brain that these feelings are dangerous, and this heightens the anxiety cycle.
So you can learn to stop the cycle of panic attacks by showing your brain that anxiety is not dangerous, that you can feel anxiety and still be 100% safe.
So say this: “This feels uncomfortable, but it’s not dangerous.” Or “Even though this is painful, I am safe.” You can say, “I can handle feeling this. This will pass. Emotions and sensations, they come and they go like waves, and this will too.”
Now, let’s make some space for these physical sensations. Your instinct is to try to force yourself to calm down or to believe that these sensations mean something terrible is about to happen. So instead we flip the script. We send the opposite message.
Open up to your sensations. Get super curious. Say, ” I wonder what it feels like to breathe this fast.” You really can allow yourself to feel these feelings. You can make space for these sensations.
There’s a few ways to practice doing this. You could imagine that you’re a curious scientist making observations about what anxiety and panic feel like. Can you be curious? Can you explore?
Instead of labeling these feelings as bad or dangerous, just describe them as they are.”I feel faint. What does faint feel like?” Can you be really curious about the other sensations you’re having?
Or you can try this experiment. Say, “Fear, bring it on. Go ahead, make me as anxious as possible.” And say, “I can feel the fear and do it anyway.” Say, “Panic, let’s go. Let’s have the biggest, strongest panic attack of my life.”
This is the paradox. It’s impossible to make yourself have a panic attack, because trying to have one sends the message to your brain that anxiety is safe.
So instead, try to open up a little space for your feelings. Get back into your body and in the present moment. Notice what you’re feeling and allow it to be there, and then watch as it passes and you’re okay. Be really compassionate to your feelings and sensations.
This sounds counterintuitive. But for example, you could say, “Hello upset stomach. It’s okay. You can keep being upset if you need to do that.” Or you say, “Hello, jiggle legs. What do you feel like right now?”
You can even exaggerate that sensation if you want. You can tense your muscles tighter. You can try to breathe faster. You can try to make your heart pound harder. You can jiggle your legs faster just to show yourself that you can feel this and you’re still okay.
So instead of trying to calm your body, say, “It’s okay to have a fast heartbeat. It’s okay to breathe this way.” Just create some awareness. You don’t need to force anything.
Because you can allow yourself to feel these sensations, you can also expand your awareness to sensations that might not be as loud.
So what else can you see in your environment? What else can you hear? What’s one thing that you can touch? What does it feel like? You can allow both feelings to be there at the same time. “I can notice that I’m hearing something, and I can notice that I’m feeling something in my body.”
You can do this. You got this. When you make space for these sensations and feelings, you can stop the cycle of being afraid of fear. This panic attack that you’re having is an opportunity to explore and try new things. So let’s be curious.
Also, be really gentle with yourself. You don’t have to get it right the first try. You don’t have to make your anxiety or panic symptoms go away, at least not right away. You’re okay.
By learning this technique you’ll help yourself have fewer panic attacks and less severe panic attacks.
At least one-third of people have a panic attack in their lifetime. This includes children as well. It’s a pretty normal experience. It’s human.
And as you keep practicing, you can learn to stop the chronic panic attacks from coming over and over again.
So just tell yourself, “It’s okay. I can feel my feelings and be okay.” Send yourself some love and gentleness. Imagine your best friend talking to you and just saying, “It’s okay that you feel this way. Some of these things scare you. Some of these sensations you’re having probably scare you. You could still send them love, even if you don’t like them.”
So open up some space to be right where you are. Because you are safe. You don’t need to force anything to change. Your body knows what to do to calm down when you stop struggling against your feelings. It’s going to naturally relax when you realize that these sensations aren’t dangerous. Learning to let go of the struggle against your sensations is a skill that you can develop.
You can do this. You are safe. Keep practicing. It will get better.
Thank you for reading, and take care.