PAs are defined as a sudden surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that lasts about 5 to 30 minutes.
During a panic attack an individual can experience:
Palpitations, pounding heart, sweating, trembling/shaking, shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, feeling dizzy, chills or heat sensations, numbness or tingling, feeling detached from oneself, fear of losing control and fear of dying.
Most panic attacks are followed by physical exhaustion and emotional fatigue and the fear of having another panic attack may become another source of stress for the individual. PAs may come from “out of nowhere” or they can be triggered by a stressful event like an argument with one’s spouse or having a bad grade at an exam. Panic attack can causes individuals to avoid certain places, people or events.
Using SUD scale to track your anxiety
Start tracking your anxiety level by using this SUD (subjective units of discomfort) scale:
1–2: No stress or anxiety. You are very relaxed and calm.
3–4: Performance/working anxiety. A certain amount of stress is not always a “bad thing” depending on the context. We need some level of stress to perform better at a test, an interview or a public speaking event. It helps us to stay motivated, focused and alert. However, if you are feeling a “4” while sitting on your couch and watching Golden Girls, you might need to start practicing relaxation.
5–6: The first physical signs of anxiety. Tightness in chest, clenching jaws or fists, irregular breathing are some of the early signs of distress. This is the ideal time to start practicing relaxation skills.
7–8: Panic attack: If you missed the early signs, now you are probably experiencing the symptoms of a full-blown panic attack. What can you do? Shake/run/walk it out. Your body thinks that it is fighting with or flighting from a threat. Therefore, a great way to manage the panic attacks is to “mimic” the fight or flight response. Increase your heartrate by climbing up and down the stairs, going for a jog or dancing.
9–10: Mental breakdown: Nothing that you tried is working and you can no longer control your anxiety and panic. Please be advised to seek emergency care.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks
We can mostly prevent panic attacks or at least decrease their intensity and duration by practicing some protective and proactive tools such as practicing relaxation skills on a daily basis, utilizing destruction and positive statements.
1) Relaxation: Practice relaxation skills such as deep breathing (https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-exercise), progressive muscle relaxation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9x3tl81NW3w) or guided meditation (https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations)
2) Engage in distraction to take your mind off the things that are triggering your panic attacks. Some examples of distraction are: going for a walk, playing a musical instrument, playing video-games, dancing, singing, knitting or calling a friend.
3) Use positive affirmations:
“I can survive a panic attack.”
“This is not going to last for a long time.”
“Slow your breathing down”.
“You survived panic attacks before.”
“I deserve to feel OK right now.”
“I can take all the time I need to relax.”
“I’ll just let it pass.”
“Nothing serious is going to happen to me.”
4) Create a coping card: Prepare a small card with the list of tools, skills that you can use to help you get through a panic attack. Carry that card in your valet.