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How to Make Your Panic Attacks Less Severe

Updated on November 29, 2012

My experiences with panic attacks began after the event of my own personal health ordeal. Thankfully, a combination of D.I.Y therapy and an understanding of what panic attacks are have greatly diminished the likelihood of their occurrence, along with their strength and duration.

This article is an attempt at describing what panic attacks truly are, and how they can be controlled. Please be advised that not all panic attacks stem from everyday stress and our attitude towards fear. They can occasionally be symptoms of underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, or psychological disorders which I am not qualified to address.

While it is easy, especially during the course of a panic-stricken moment, to jump the gun and declare our health forfeit (the vast majority or emergency visits from people complaining of having suffered a heart attack stem from panic -- the symptoms can be strikingly similar). I urge readers who are unsure what triggers their attacks to visit a doctor to rule out an underlying illness related trigger.


The Nature Of A Panic Attack

Due to the intense and often unpredictable nature of a panic attack it can be very difficult to prepare for effectively when we feel a bout rushing on.

One second you're standing at relative ease, the next you're sweating, out of breath and entirely too conscious of your heart resounding in your chest. Nausea sets in, your thoughts turn for the worse and control begins to slip. What on earth is going on?

It can be a difficult concept to rationalize but in most cases your panic attack is a blind attempt by the body to aid you. Far from a systemic breakdown often confused with a heart attack (more on this later), your body is navigating it's way though what is known as the flight or fight response.

Stress in the modern world is intangible. But much of human development took place in a violent world, where a sudden threat, such as the appearance of a predator, required the body to react instantly. In short, the body is preparing us to fight the threat, or run from it. Due to the intangibility of modern stress, you are stuck in a state where you are able to do neither, and so the body reacts by keeping you in the panic state until it is satisfied the threat is over.

Most panic attacks last up to 30 minutes, and are incredibly intense. Eventually, the body will begin to shelve the perceived threat as nonexistent, and you will begin to relax.

Anxiety Vs Panic

Symptoms of generalized anxiety are generally not limited to small, brief and intense episodes. If your symptoms affect you in the mid to long term, and do not fade after a relatively small amount of time, you may be suffering from a case of chronic anxiety instead. Symptoms can include difficulty sleeping and progressive weight loss (or gain).

The Symptoms Make Sense

Once a rational connection is made between our body's exaggerated reaction, and it's belated primordial purpose, the symptoms you feel so devastatingly begin to make a great deal of sense.

Let us return to that primordial world, and let us imagine that we are suddenly confronted by a tiger. Here's how a panic attack is actually of use, and why the flight-or-fight mechanism exists.

  • Heart palpitations - The body's attempt to pump more oxygen to the muscles, temporarily making you faster and stronger.
  • An adrenaline rush - Not only improves your energy but also releases natural pain killers to spur you on through the pain of a fight or injury.
  • Your eyes dilate - To see clearly in the dark and to improve focus temporarily. May also be a side-effect of hyperventilation.
  • Sudden desire to use the bathroom - Nutrient release in order to improve muscular action.
  • Chest pain - Contraction of the chest muscles in order to prepare for violence, and not the muscles of the heart.

And on! For many, such as myself, simply knowing that I was not dealing with a heart attack was enough to regain a measure of control over panic episodes. The next section of the article will deal with common symptoms, and how to reduce their impact.


Reducing The Severity Of Panic

One great way to reduce the impact of a panic attack is by actually acting as if we were confronted by a tiger. A general tip that tends to work is by enacting a fight or flight response artificially such as punching a pillow repeatedly, hiding under your bed or going for a jog.

Many additional and disabling symptoms such as shortness of breath can also be limited, the problem is the solution is often the opposite of what we think.

Shortness of breath is actually caused by too much, and not too little, oxygen reaching brain. In order to restore the imbalance try holding your breath or breathing into a bag.

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes, which are known triggers for panic attacks in people who are known to have them now and then (and almost everyone does, most of whom are completely healthy).

Relaxation techniques can drastically reduce the duration of a panic attack by reversing the body's signal to the adrenal glands and halting the production of adrenaline. Ideally, and with practice, the sooner you start relaxing, the sooner it will end.

Prescription medication is also a popular route for many. Due to how immensely common panic attacks are. There are a plethora of tailor-made options available to you via your family doctor. It is never a bad idea to get professional opinion. Chances are they've dealt with it a million times before.

The Fear Of The Fear

Peaking stress levels are often the causes of panic attacks. One of the most consciously and subconsciously trying foundations of stress is known as anticipatory stress. In essence, many panic disorders grotesquely feed off themselves.

Those afflicted by panic attacks become stuck in a vicious cycle where the fear of the next panic bout is enough to trigger another one! Controlling panic attacks is greatly aided by attempting to break this cycle. Instead of living in perpetual fear of a public breakdown, try and limit them by urging them on. Once a panic attack hits, throw a figurative lasso around by grading it from one to ten.

While these exercises may seem redundant and superficial, you are in essence drawing a firm psychological contour around them. Actively training your brain to accept that these attacks will not spiral out of control, and that they are firmly within your grasp.


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    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 5 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Great article on panic attacks. Everyone is different, and ways of handling it of course change from person to person. I have suffered from panic attacks.. I have used breathing out to normalize my oxygen/carbon dioxide. Your techniques make a lot of sense, and triggers often start the cycle. Doing meditation daily can also make a big difference. I give you so much credit for willingness to share what happened to you to try to help others. Have a good life and happy writing.

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Indeed! I think I encapsulate my last paragraph entirely :P The fear of the fear of the fear!

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      @hub author

      Maybe this is the weak spot - your belief in the subconscious. Wouldn't you think if a trigger is really a trigger - semantically, there are no triggers and humans have language. :)

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks for you time Teresa! Yes, at a conscious level that's exactly what I would say, though I personally found that many triggers were subconscious, thus difficult to predict or control. By the end of my panic attacks I actually was able to smile, and make fun of myself while they happened -- didn't stop them happening though :P

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Let me add, 'fight or flight' is an oversimplification. You'd maybe find a psychologist wondering whether you'd step backward or forward. A psycholinguist would say your behavior is not predetermined. :)

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Facing a tiger, I'd rather have a gun to shoot it down without going aside to relieve my bladder or blowing a paper bag before I go under a bed (in a jungle?)

      Anticipatory stress: what will be, will be. This has always been my attitude.

      I understand that you may have experienced a health condition trauma. Wouldn't you say to yourself, 'Enough. I'm gathering up' ?