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How Do I Control a Panic Attack?

Updated on February 11, 2011
Does shopping make you want to hide?
Does shopping make you want to hide?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of extreme distress and physical symptoms including difficulty breathing, racing heart rate, heart palpitations, and dizziness. A panic attack causes the person to believe they are threatened or that something bad is going to happen. Many people who experience panic attack isolate themselves or avoid situations that might trigger a panic attack. How do I control a panic attack?

In my experience, the worst part of a panic attack is truly believing something bad is going to happen. Many people experience additional anxiety from physical symptoms of panic attacks which can mimic a heart attack. This causes fear of a heart attack which exacerbates the already high levels of anxiety.

If the person can identify the symptoms as just a panic attack and acknowledge that there is no real danger, this can help diffuse the panic attack. This is easier said than done, but it does become easier with practice. Acknowledging the panic attack for what it is helps the person to avoid adding to the anxiety by worrying about a perceived threat or heart attack. Using positive self-talk to reassure yourself can really help.

Some people who experience panic attacks find taking medication helpful at the onset of symptoms. The doctor may prescribe a medication for panic attacks that is only taken as needed. A daily medication may also be prescribed to reduce the likelihood of experiencing panic attack symptoms.

Isolating should be avoided as much as possible. It is very common for people who experience panic attacks to begin to fear them. This causes the person to retreat to living in a comfort zone. If the person experiences panic attacks in crowds, the person may start avoiding mall, stores, and the public in general.

Considering the behaviorism perspective, it is not surprising that people who have panic attacks in public learn to isolate. A panic attack in a public place can be perceived subconsciously as a punishment, what behaviorists would call a positive punishment, for being in public. Since staying at home does not cause a panic attack, the lack of panic attacks is a reward, or negative reinforcement according to behaviorists, for staying at home. Therefore, the person learns to stay at home in this process of operant conditioning.

The problem with isolating is that the comfort zone tends to decrease in size over time. In my case, I avoided stores, then going in public at all. My comfort zone was my home. Then, my comfort zone continued to shrink until I could no longer even check my mail without experiencing terrible anxiety. I was surprised to find out that this is actually a common course of the illness.

So, I’ve begun to challenge myself to go out in public at least once a week. This has decreased the anxiety tremendously. I encourage anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks related to being in public to try their best to force themselves to be outside their comfort zone regularly.


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      PWalker281 8 years ago

      Great hub, Sheila! I just wrote one about "self-talk" ( that you might want to check out.

      I'd like to link that hub to this one so people who suffer from full blown panic attacks (as opposed to mild anxiety) have some information to help them.