Help for Anxiety Panic Attacks
How to Control Anxiety Without Medication
I've suffered from anxiety panic attacks for most of my life. I experience them almost daily, and because I've had so many of them, I thought it was a normal feeling that people had. I thought the whole world was going through the same thing, and it wasn't until about four years ago, after entering counselling, that I was told what I went through wasn't normal.
I have post traumatic stress (PTSD) from childhood trauma, and many of the panic attacks are related to the PTSD. At first, I didn't even know what the symptoms of panic attacks were. Most of the medications I tried were only moderately helpful, so I set out to find ways to how to control my anxiety without medication. There was no quick fix, but by using a combination of methods I'm able to manage them and tone down both the intensity and frequency of them.
The Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks
What are Panic Attacks?
Most people use the expression anxiety attack and panic attack interchangeably, and though the symptoms are quite similar between the two, there is a distinctive difference between anxiety and panic attacks. An anxiety attack often originates from unrelenting worry about something and generally worsens over time. A panic attack usually comes on suddenly, is very intense, and peaks within about ten minutes, although it may take them hours to fully subside.
Panic attacks can vary in intensity. At their severest, a panic attack can feel like you are having a heart attack. It can be hard to breathe, your body goes weak, and you may think you are having a nervous breakdown. They can be so terrifying that you live in fear of when your next panic attack will hit.
When Panic Attacks
How I Live With Daily Panic Attacks
I lived with panic attacks for so long I thought they were a normal part of life. Because of my childhood trauma of sexual abuse I have an intense fear of people. I now know that there are some situations were I am more likely to experience a panic attack, such as those times when people are hugging me. I don't always know what might set off a panic attack, but knowing what may trigger one certainly helps you prepare for it.
I have panic attacks so severe that I black out for a fraction of a second. I've never actually fallen down, because I regain consciousness immediately after my world goes black. I don't get any warning that I'm going to pass out, and don't know what has happened until I come to. It's very scary because it all happens in a split second.
I've learned various ways of overcoming my panic attacks through professional counselling, taking stress management courses, and reading a lot of self-help books. I use a variety of methods, rather than just one technique, because it helps to have many different tools to draw on.
If you want to know more about me, my struggle with panic disorder, anxiety, PTSD, childhood sexual abuse, and the video I produced about my journey to wellness you can read more at My Name is Sandra, I'm a Survivor.
What are Panic Attacks? - Anxiety Panic Attack Symptoms
The DSM-IV definition of a panic attack is a period of intense fear that peaks within about 10 minutes and has four or more of the following symptoms and signs:
- rapid or pounding heart beat
- feeling short of breath
- choking feeling
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or stomach upset
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- feelings of unreality or being detached
- fear of losing control
- feeling like you are going to die
- numbing or tingling sensation
- hot flashes or chills
A Quick Look at What's Helped Me - Ways to Manage Anxiety
- Focusing on breathing
- Grounding (bringing attention to my surroundings)
- Being aware of potential triggers
Focusing on Breathing
Using the Count of 5-2-5
When your heart is pounding and you feel like you are going to die it's really hard to focus on anything other than the intense panic you feel. Learning how to concentrate on your breathing, sounds hard, but it works. I think this technique works so well for me because it requires that my panicked brain think about something else.
How it works - When the panic hits take a deep breath and count to 5 while you are inhaling. Stop and hold your breath for the count of 2, then exhale while you count to 5. It's recommended that you repeat this cycle for 5 times, but I often do it for a longer time, just to keep my mind off the fear.
Being Aware of Potential Triggers
Can You Stop Panic Attacks?
I guess you could say I'm lucky because I have so many panic attacks I have been able to figure out when they are more likely to happen. This enables me to talk myself through the various scenarios I might encounter and plan for relaxation techniques.
For instance, social gatherings can induce my panic attacks. Before I head out I picture myself in a crowd of people, all the while breathing and staying calm. You could say I induce a sense of peace about what I am about to face. When I call on this visualization during the evening, it's oddly calming. I don't know why this works to overcome the anxiety and worry, but I'm glad it does.
Grounding - Bringing Attention to Your Surroundings
My favorite technique for bringing the focus away from the panic attack is an exercise that makes you aware of your surroundings and your senses. It looks like this:
Mindfulness as a Treatment for Anxiety Panic Symptoms
Staying in the Present
I've found the practice of mindfulness helpful in alleviating the fear of having another panic attack. It can be a vicious cycle when you are having a lot of them, as you begin to fear the mere thought of when the next one is going to hit.
Mindfulness is useful because it helps you understand how worrying about the future causes us a lot of anxiety. Through mindfulness you can learn to stay in the present moment and not worry so much about what "might" happen.
Self-help Books for Panic Attacks
Managing Anxiety Without Medication
There are times when the panic stays with me for hours and sometimes days. I took a course to learn how to manage my panic attacks better. Part of the course taught about meditation and I must admit, I went into it very skeptical. I thought meditation was stupid and there was no way I was going to be chanting "ohmmm".
I learned many different ways to meditate. Thankfully you don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor chanting, you can meditate while you are walking, lying down, and even while you are standing in the check-out line. I meditate whenever I can't seem to calm the panic down and it's been very helpful.
Guided Meditation For Beginners - Learn Different Meditation Techniques
When purchasing a meditation CD be sure it says "guided" meditation, as many meditation CD's are just music for meditation. A guided meditation will help keep your focus.
- Name 3 things you see.
Example: I see a red car, a black cat, and a child playing.
- Name 3 things you hear.
Example: I hear a car starting, a lawnmower, and a dog barking.
- Name 3 things you smell.
Example: I smell toast, fresh paint, and car exhaust.
- Name 3 things you feel.
Example: I feel the hot pavement on my bare feet, the wind on my face, and my hair blowing in the breeze.
For this one it's important not to focus on your pounding heart, or your weak legs, etc. You want to concentrate on something other than the panic symptoms.