Panic attacks are a symptom of panic disorder and can occur quickly without warning, which may be scary for those who experience them. For many people, panic attacks can also be caused by an inciting event. Recognizing what incites panic attacks and employing panic-reducing strategies can often effectively control these symptoms.
Sometimes, people experience difficulty identifying the inciting events that lead to their panic attacks. However, you can include a few strategies in your routine that may help you identify the cause. One of the most productive ways to control a panic attack may be stopping it before it happens, and there are a few tools and strategies geared explicitly toward doing so.
How Do I Know If I'm Having A Panic Attack?
While panic attacks manifest in different ways from person to person, some common panic attack symptoms include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Body or leg shaking
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Chest tightness
- Stomach aches
- A sense of danger around the corner
- Feeling "detached" from reality
- Struggling to move your body or take action
- Feeling the urge to run
- Feeling the urge to defend yourself
While these symptoms can be uncomfortable and unsettling, panic attacks are not life-threatening. If you've experienced some of these symptoms, you may have had a panic attack. If you have panic disorder, you may feel worried about having more panic attacks, which could cause further episodes. However, there are ways to work around these attacks and find relief.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
A trigger is an event that causes an emotional reaction. The word "trigger" is associated with stimuli that remind individuals of traumatic events. When having a panic attack unrelated to trauma, you might refer to these events as "inciting events." A few common inciting events that might bring on panic attacks can include the following:
- Specific individuals
- Tone of voice
- Fear of loss
- A reminder of a traumatic event, like a conversation, challenging therapy session, etc.
- Social situations
- Crowded rooms
- Being alone
- Being pushed to do something you're not comfortable with
- Being touched
Often, people can identify individuals or situations that cause stress. However, sometimes people report that they have panic attacks without cause. If you cannot identify the cause of your panic attack, it might be helpful to retrace your steps to think about what you were doing, whom you were talking to, and what you were thinking about leading up to the attack. Try to think of these causes after the panic attack, as the attack might cause you to struggle to think clearly.
Where there is tolerance, there is a chance that the individual will reach a point where they can no longer postpone the inevitable. When the stress or emotion catches up to them, they may have a panic attack.
How To Cope With Inciting Events And Triggers
Inciting events may not always be able to be avoided. For example, you might know that seeing a particular person will upset you, so you do your best to try and avoid that person. However, they might pop up, or you may see a reminder of them online. As it can be challenging to plan for every scenario, you might constantly worry, which can increase anxiety.
However, planning time more efficiently may circumvent specific causes of anxiety, such as heavy traffic, crowded rooms, or deadlines for school. If deadlines bring on feelings of panic, employ a proactive stance so that projects can be completed early. Many experts also suggest using tactics similar to those used in exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) to cope with anxiety.
The theory behind ERP is that avoiding your fears or performing compulsive behaviors can reinforce them by showing you that your fear controls you. However, by facing these fears, often alongside a compassionate therapist, you can start to see how these fears do not define you, offering a sense of confidence and resilience.
How To Know Whether You Are Experiencing Panic Attacks Related To Trauma
Individuals who have been abused by someone from the family or romantic partner or who are survivors of violent crime or trauma may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Events or individuals reminiscent of the traumatic event can bring on a panic attack.
Removing yourself from triggering situations may help you avoid panic attacks. However, if you want to know how to treat panic attacks, it can also be helpful to confront the source of your stress, such as going to therapy to heal from a traumatic event you experienced.
How To Manage The Onset Of A Panic Attack
When stressors and triggers go unacknowledged and unmanaged, panic attacks may seem sudden. If possible, separate from the source of anxiety. Move to an open area, preferably where fresh air is available. If a change of location is impossible, consider closing your eyes and using visualization techniques to mentally take yourself to your happy place. You might imagine a beach, a forest, or a calming spot from your childhood.
Try taking deep breaths and acknowledging that you are having a panic attack. It could help to recite a mantra such as "I'm safe, and this will pass." As you continue to breathe, allow your body to relax and practice deep breathing techniques, which may eventually end the panic attack.
If you struggle to control your behavior during a panic attack or feel the urge to run away, freeze, or stop talking, try to sit or lay down comfortably where you feel safe. If you have someone you trust in your life, you might let them know what helps you during a panic attack before it happens. For example, if someone talking to you while you're panicking makes it worse, you might ask them to support you without words by hugging you, offering you tea, or sitting with you until it passes.
Managing Daily Stress To Prevent Panic Attacks
Managing daily stress through diet, exercise, and proper sleep can equip you to handle stressful events as they occur. Learning deep breathing techniques, working on challenging your anxiety by differentiating between emotional and rational thoughts, and engaging in meditation techniques can be helpful for people who have panic attacks.
Immediate Coping Mechanisms For Panic Attacks
Many people want to know how to stop a panic attack in its tracks immediately. If you are panicking, consider trying the following techniques for immediate relief.
The TIPP Skill From Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy was developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., to help individuals with profound emotional responses. One module of the DBT workbook is distress tolerance, which focuses on coping with extreme distress. The TIPP skill is one skill from this module, which is an acronym standing for the following:
- T: Temperature
- I: Intense Exercise
- P: Paced Breathing
- P: Paired Muscle Relaxation
To start, find a way to alter your temperature. Studies show that swimming in cold water stops panic attacks. If you can't swim, you can put your face in a sink of cold water, hold an ice cube, or take a cold shower. The temperature of a cold shower can reset your nervous system, potentially bringing you out of your panic.
After changing your temperature, partake in a form of exercise. Swimming in cold water is one way you can combine both skills. However, you can also try running, taking a hike, running on a treadmill, or doing yoga. Exercising can increase endorphins in your brain, allowing you a mood boost.
After you have finished the first two skills, sit or lay down in a comfortable location. Start pacing your breathing by counting on your in and out breaths. Depending on what works for you, you might count to five, eight, or ten. While breathing, you can practice paired muscle relaxation by thinking of relaxing each muscle as you breathe. Start with the muscles of your feet and move up to the top of your head, relaxing each part of your body.
Sensory Wellness Skills
For many people, panic attacks occur due to sensory overload, which might be caused by loud noises, crowded rooms, or a disregard of your physical and sensory boundaries by others. When you're panicking, consider having a sensory wellness kit to use. This kit could include the following:
- Fidget toys
- A stuffed animal
- A weighted blanket
- A coloring book
- Kind letters from someone you love
- A letter to yourself on how you've coped in the past
- Soothing music
- An ice or heat pack to put on your body
- A puzzle
- A book you love to read
- Sensory-friendly clothing (like comfortable pajamas)
You might also add a space in your house where you can go when you panic, such as a comfortable section of your closet, a reading nook, a window ledge, or your bed. Set up this area to offer a quiet, comfortable, and personalized sensory environment to help you cope after a panic attack.
If you often have panic attacks in public, consider bringing your sensory kit with you in a backpack or purse.
If you are struggling with panic attacks and don't find the above strategies beneficial, consider contacting a professional for support. A licensed therapist can gather a history of your symptoms and come up with an individualized plan for you to employ to address your anxiety and panic. If you are worried about meeting a therapist in person, you can also consider online therapy.
Through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist with experience treating anxiety and panic disorder. If you discover your therapist is not a match, you can switch therapists until you find a provider that meets your needs. In addition, online therapy can allow you to choose between phone, video, or chat sessions, which can be beneficial if you are worried about talking to someone face-to-face.
An increasing number of studies have shown that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly reduce the number of panic attacks someone has, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. CBT is a therapeutic framework that teaches people to replace unhelpful thoughts with helpful and productive ideas and beliefs.
How can I calm a panic attack?
If you feel a panic attack coming on, try to separate yourself from whatever is causing you anxiety. An open area with fresh air can often be helpful. If you can’t get away, close your eyes and try to imagine that you’re someplace peaceful, like the beach or in a forest. If the fear overwhelms you, take deep breaths, remind yourself that you are safe and having a panic attack, and practice breathing exercises.
How do you cure a panic attack fast?
There are a few techniques that can help you calm a panic attack. One is called the TIPP skill from dialectical behavioral therapy. This type of therapy was developed to help people who experience profound emotional responses. The TIPP skill is a coping mechanism for dealing with extreme distress. TIPP stands for temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and paired muscle relaxation techniques.
The first thing to do in this technique is to change your temperature. Swimming in cold water can stop a panic attack, but you can take a cold shower or splash your face with cold water if you can't utilize a pool. Next, exercise. Try something like running, hiking, or yoga. After you have finished the first two skills, get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, and take deep breaths. Then, start paired muscle relaxation, thinking of each muscle in your body as you breathe, starting from your feet and moving up to your head.
Some people also find sensory wellness skills can help. Consider keeping a sensory kit with you that includes things like fidget toys, a weighted blanket, a letter from someone you love, a puzzle, or comfortable clothes.
What are 4 signs of a panic attack?
There are many signs of panic disorders, and everyone experiences them in their own way. Some symptoms may include sudden and repeated attacks of intense anxiety and fear, feelings of being out of control, fears of impending doom or death, worry about when the next panic attack will happen, and avoiding places where panic attacks have occurred in the past. Physical symptoms can include sweating, racing heart rate, chills, difficulty breathing, trembling, weakness or dizziness, tingling hands, trembling, and nausea.
What triggers panic attacks?
Some common triggers of panic attacks may include health issues, medications, caffeine, low blood sugar, negative thinking, financial worries, large social events, and relationship problems. That said, some panic attacks may seem to come out of nowhere without an identifiable trigger.
How long do panic attacks last?
What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety?
The 333 rule is an informal way of dealing with anxiety disorders to help you stay grounded in your present environment. To do it, focus on what is around you, naming three things you can see, three sounds you can hear, and three things you can touch. There is no formal or peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of this technique, but some people may find it helpful.
Are panic attacks normal?
Panic attacks are somewhat common for people with an anxiety disorder, like generalized anxiety disorder, affecting 11% of the population every year. For some people, these attacks are isolated incidents. Others can go on to develop panic disorder.
How does a panic attack feel?
People who are experiencing a panic attack may feel faint and experience sweating, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, or a racing heartbeat. A panic attack can be mistaken for a heart attack. People may also feel like they’re choking and can have dry mouths, trembling, shaky limbs, or feel like they have pins and needles in their hands and feet. Panic attacks may also be accompanied by hot flashes, chills, dizziness, and emotional symptoms, like a feeling of dread or fear of dying.
Can you push down a panic attack?
Sometimes, you can manage most panic attacks if you know your symptoms and try to get them under control before the panic attack sets in. Some things to try include physically separating yourself from whatever is causing anxiety by going outside and getting some fresh air. If you can’t, close your eyes, imagine that you’re someplace peaceful, and take deep breaths. Remind yourself that you’re experiencing a panic attack and that you are safe. If you experience panic attacks and want to learn more coping techniques or what to do when a panic attack happens, working with an online therapist can help. You may also want to talk to your doctor to see if medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can help treat anxiety disorders contributing to your panic attacks.
Do you cry during panic attacks?
Everyone experiences panic attacks differently, and crying during a panic attack can occur. This symptom can feel quite distressing, as crying during a panic attack can be uncontrollable. It may make panic attacks worse, make the person feel like they’re losing control, and be difficult to stop.
- Previous Article
- Next Article