My Anxiety Is Killing Me: Fixing Constant Panic Attacks
By: Sarah Fader
Updated November 09, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Most people know when a spasm causes your muscles to seize up. The body tenses and you might even cry from pain; but generally, everyone around you is sympathetic. They see you and know what you're going through. Panic attacks are different. Not everyone understands them, and the reaction is often subjective. What triggers you may not trigger someone else. When I feel like my anxiety is killing me, I have a simple technique that stops things from getting worse.
If you want to fix your panic attacks, one of the best things to do is to find a trained therapist that can work out coping strategies and grounding methods for your specific situation. BetterHelp has many trained therapists for you to choose from. You can get help to manage your panic attacks with the help of a trained professional.
The first part of overcoming a panic attack is to be AWARE. It's happening. You know it's happening, but it's likely that you're not consciously focusing on the attack because your mind is in such excessive turmoil. AWARE stands for:
A - Accept/Acknowledge
A - Act
R - Repeat
E - End
Each step forces you to focus on something other than the chaotic thoughts zipping through your head. By accepting and acknowledging that the attack is happening, you are regaining control of your panicked mind. It's happening, so accept it and don't fight against it. Waiting before acting means not just acting for the sake of acting. It's allowing yourself time to formulate a successful plan before acting. Many calming methods require repetition to help ground you so that the panic attack can end. Panic attacks all end whether you "help" them or not but having coping methods make the experience a lot less likely to happen. It makes it easier when you don't try to prevent it.
Grounding is an anxiety technique that forces your mind to focus on a repetitive task. My favorite is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This uses the 5 senses and forces you to focus outside of your mind before repeating the action over and over until your brain gets distracted from whatever is causing the panic attack. This will allow you to reset. There are many other grounding techniques out there, but this one is especially effective.
The key to stopping a panic attack is not to let things escalate in the first place. It's likely that you know the telltale signs as they start creeping in, so you get more anxious, bringing it on faster. As your adrenaline increases and you breathe faster, you're already in panic mode, making the attack inevitable. Find something to distract yourself until the panic has passed, like using the phone, or mental exercises like grounding or deep belly breathing.
Medication can go a long way towards stopping constant panic attacks. Most medications quiet your mind and thoughts so that you don't think as fast and can't build up to a panic attack. By the time an attack begins, the first thought has already drifted away. By seeing a doctor, you'll also be able to ease your mind that there's nothing else wrong. The doctor will likely give you a treatment plan that works in conjunction with the other professionals you're seeing.
Getting medicated and using professional therapy is what worked for me. While the anxiety itself hasn't gone away, having the tools (medications) and the actions (grounding) together means anxious thoughts are much less likely to escalate into full-blown panic attacks. Some treat panic attacks with medication alone, others with therapy alone, and others with both.
Get Back in Control
When you have a panic attack, you feel out of control. A panic attack may feel like it comes out of nowhere to assault you. One of the major components of stopping panic attacks is understanding that you do have a certain amount of power over them. You can choose to dwell on anxious thoughts, or you can let those thoughts pass harmlessly through your mind as you learn to stay centered and aware of your surroundings. You can even use the breathing techniques mentioned earlier to slow down your rapid breathing and fast heartbeat. A counselor can guide you through a variety of breathing techniques to find the one that works best for you.
Do Some Problem-Solving
Another way a therapist can treat your symptoms is by helping you examine the problems that are causing the anxiety in the first place. You can learn coping skills, of course, but you can also get to the root of the problem, and eliminate the reason for your discomfort. For example, if you're in an unhealthy relationship, you can decide whether you want to continue it or not. Choosing to move on may be what you need to leave your anxiety behind. Even if you stay, considering the options and making a firm decision reminds you that you are in control, and can change your mind whenever you like.
When Changes Don't Seem to Matter
Although making life changes can have a profound impact on the level of anxiety you experience, you may find that even major changes don't banish your fears. Your mind may be so accustomed to switching into anxiety mode that it goes there no matter what's going on in your life. Once you've examined your life and made significant changes, it's important to continue to meet with a counselor and keep working on your ways of thinking and reacting. No one is complete without stress, so you need to be prepared for challenging times and life transitions when they come.
Build a Support Network
Because so many people fail to grasp how hard it is to stop panic attacks, associating with people who understand anxiety can provide an outlet for your feelings that you can't get from most people. Your therapist can be the center of this supportive network. They can also direct you to support groups if you determine that interacting with others who struggle with anxiety can make you feel more accepted and "normal." You can also build your network by educating your friends and family members about panic disorder. Your counselor might send you educational links or help you learn how to explain anxiety to others in ways they can understand.
Get Involved with Physical Activities
Increasing your physical activities can sometimes help anxiety and panic attacks. Exercise can change your brain chemistry in a way that may relieve some of your symptoms. While panic attacks are generated in your brain, the combination of physical exercise and improved coping techniques can reduce your panic attacks dramatically. This avenue may not work for everyone, especially for those who are already involved in a fitness program. People who live a more sedentary life are likely to see the best results. If you're unsure whether to begin working out or get involved in a sport, talk to both your doctor and your counselor.
You would obviously have a hard time shifting into a deep meditative state from a bout of extreme anxiety. The key to using meditation for panic attacks is to practice it when you aren’t in the middle of one. As you meditate, you let go of anxious thoughts. It takes practice, and your therapist or meditation coach may have to go through the process with you, step by step, many times before you begin to see results. The important thing to remember is that everything you can do to decrease your overall level of anxiety can also work to decrease the intensity of individual anxiety attacks when they do come.
Finding a Therapist You Can Trust
Trust is always an issue when it comes to choosing a therapist. It's even more important when you struggle with anxiety daily. Start by finding out about the counselor's training, certification, and experience. Sometimes, even a photo of them can set you at ease if they resemble someone who's proven trustworthy in your life. To really know if the counselor is right for you, though, you need to begin therapy and find out for yourself. Once you establish a trusting counselor/client relationship, the work of overcoming panic attacks becomes much easier.
Establishing Trust With BetterHelp
Recent research has pointed to internet-based counseling as a flexible, efficient, and useful alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked the effectiveness of online therapy when addressing panic disorder and related issues. Specifically, the study examined the effects of internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help those living with anxiety to develop coping strategies. Participants reported significant decreases in the severity of anxiety symptoms, with 77% of patients no longer experiencing panic disorder at a nine-month follow-up.
As outlined above, online therapy can be highly beneficial for those experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks. Anxiety can make it difficult to see a therapist face-to-face, and having to sit in traffic to get to an appointment makes seeing a licensed therapist even harder. This is where online therapy comes in. BetterHelp's platform is completely anonymous, and can be accessed from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Their network of licensed therapists have years of experience helping people develop coping tools for their anxiety. Below, you may read some BetterHelp counselor reviews, from people experiencing similar issues.
"After working with Debra for just a couple of months, I have seen my anxiety drastically reduce. I learned a tremendous amount from her about how to manage and effectively cope with anxiety and trauma. I have seen great results when putting these new things into practice. She is very patient, kind, and understanding. I found it easy to open up to her. She is also very good about checking in and making sure I am on track to becoming a better version of myself."
"I want to say a Big Thank You to betterhelp.com for assigning Noami Kim to me...I don't know if I'd have gotten a better session like hers. My 2 weeks alone with her has recorded some noticeable progress on coping with my frequent panic attacks/disorder. My experience so far with her has been very relaxing and conversational even when at times it was difficult for me to express myself. I feel very positive that'll come out better and more focused in fighting this PAD. Thank You Noami Kim"
Moving On to Self-Trust
A part of the anxiety that happens during a panic attack is a distrust of your own body and mind. You don't believe that you can make it through the panic attack. When you find a therapist you trust, you'll feel comfortable following their lead as they teach you coping skills and grounding techniques. Once you've mastered those, you'll likely feel a great deal more confidence in yourself and your ability to manage panic. This not only helps you lessen the severity of your panic attacks in the long run, but it has other benefits as well. You become more self-accepting, self-confident, and more in tune with the world around you.
Will the Anxiety Ever Go Away?
People with panic attacks struggle with this question: will anxiety ever go away? Anxiety might disappear for the most part. Yet, even if it doesn't completely vanish, you will have learned techniques to manage your anxiety during your counseling. You'll have the strong support you can rely on during your most difficult times. Everyone deals with anxiety occasionally. The good news is that even if anxiety and panic attacks seem to rule your life now, you can find a measure of relief.
Until you learn how to manage your panic attacks, anxiety can make you feel immobilized. Yet, at any time, you can break free and make a new choice. The longer you put off treatment, the more anxious times you are likely to suffer through in the meantime. Take the simple step of starting therapy, and your counselor will help you do the rest.
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