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How to Talk Yourself Through a Panic Attack

Posted on 7 April, 2015 at 8:00

You feel it coming on. Your chest is getting tight. Your heart is pounding. Your airway is constricting. You can't breathe! It's a panic attack, and you feel like you can't do anything but surrender to it. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be the case. You have more power than you think.


What is a panic attack? If you have never had one, consider yourself lucky. A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear or anxiety, often with little or no warning. Basically, you get an adrenaline dump into your system because of a real or perceived threat. The person having one may feel like she is dying, having a heart attack, or going crazy. There are quite a few possible symptoms, but some of the more common ones are:


Feeling faint or light-headed

Racing or pounding heart

Sweating

Chills

Feeling like you can't breathe

Anxiety

Dizziness or tingling


Now, so you know that I am not making light of panic attacks by saying you can talk yourself through one, I will share my own experience with them. About five years ago I started waking up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe. I went from sleeping soundly to having a tight chest and constricted airway, taking very shallow breaths. The feeling of not being able to breathe is terrifying. Without air, we die, so there is a desperation to fill the lungs as quickly and deeply as possible. Except that I couldn't get a deep breath. I felt the panic, but I knew I couldn't fully give in to it. I had to grab at that sliver of logic still present and tell myself this:


Calm down. You are okay. You are having a hard time taking a deep breath. Notice your breathing and slow it down. You are okay. You are not dying. Pay attention to your breathing and keep it slow. You are okay.


I repeated this to myself for as long as it took to calm down, which was several minutes in reality, but felt like much longer. You, too, can use this technique to talk yourself down from, or out of, a panic attack.


1. Use a calm, slow voice as you remind yourself that you are okay and the attack will pass.

2. Pay attention to your breathing. First, just notice your breath. Then, actively begin to slow it down and keep it regulated.

3. Keep doing these things until the panic feeling fades. You will still feel keyed-up because of all the adrenaline in your system. It takes a while for that to pass, but give it time.


If it seems like this isn't working instantly, keep at it, because it takes more than two seconds to resolve a panic attack. You must practice this technique, and you must buy into it, believing it will work for you. It will work for you.

Categories: Worry, Life Skills

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