A panic attack is a burst of sudden fear and anxiety triggered by a stimuli in the environment and often lasts 5-30 minutes. The symptoms of a panic attack include rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, fear, sweating, or chills. Those who have frequent panic attacks typically suffer from panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that around six million American adults endure.
I have experienced first hand how absolutely terrifying panic attacks can be. I have always been a worrier, and when I began college I became overly anxious. This eventually led to numerous panic attacks over the years, most occurring while sitting in class or at other very inconvenient times. In the moment, you feel powerless and vulnerable and it seems like they will never end, but they do, I promise.
These are some exercises that I find helpful to alleviate the panic and subside the attack quicker and potentially prevent future attacks.
If you are anxious and/or have had panic attacks before, you might be sick of people telling you to "simply breathe" — I know I am. Taking a deep, calm, breath can be difficult when filled with overwhelming panic. Before you scoff and disregard this paragraph because breathing is "overrated," try the 4-7-8 breathing method. Count to 4 as you inhale, hold until you reach 7, and exhale for 8. Not only will this provide sufficient oxygen levels to your brain, the counting helps you concentrate on something other than the panic.
If breathing is not your thing or calm breaths are not possible in your current state, try grounding yourself. I find five different things to touch and focus on how they feel. For example, if I am sitting in class and I am shocked by oncoming panic I mindfully touch my ring, my sweatshirt sleeve, my pen, necklace, and the desk. Taking the time to notice little things like the texture of an object can distract you and keep your mind occupied from the panic to help you relax.
If you are in a certain situation that triggered the panic attack, try to remove yourself if possible, even if it is just to the bathroom for a few minutes. This will give you time to refocus, breathe, and maybe give yourself a little pep talk. Yes, a pep talk—or affirmations. Look in the mirror and say words of encouragement out loud. Even a simple mantra such as "I can do this" can work wonders. This may seem silly at first, but there is science behind it. Self-affirmations can boost self-confidence and make you feel in control of a situation.
When a wave of a panic attack crashes on you, find a comfortable practice that works for you. Listen to music, do a little yoga, run, pray to whatever deity you may acknowledge, or meditate if possible. There are even superfoods that can help calm anxiety over time—as a dietetics major and a lover of food, I am a full believer in the power of food.
When your panic attacks become more frequent or the symptoms worsen, consider reaching out to someone, like a counselor, or talk to your doctor. We all need someone to talk to. Remember, this feeling is only temporary, it will leave soon. Don't be afraid. You are a warrior.