Enduring a panic or anxiety attack is tough. Many come with sudden overwhelming surges of fear, panic or stress that take over your whole body. They can have both physical and emotional symptoms such as difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking, pounding heart and chest pain.
Unfortunately, they are becoming more and more common due to the fast-paced, high-stress lives that many of us lead. Here are 10 different tools that you can use to try and prevent a panic attack or stop an attack when you’re having one.
1. Take deep breaths
Often during an anxiety attack our breath flows short and shallow, in many instances we start to hyperventilate which can worsen the attack. Deeper breaths can help to reduce symptoms of panic during an attack. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out of your mouth, feel the air slowly fill your lungs and belly and then slowly exhale the air away. Try to breathe in for a count of four, pause, and breathe out for a count of four.
2. Find a focus
Bring your awareness to an object that you can easily see, and focus on it. Start to list everything about it – it’s shape, colour, material, size. Focus all of your energy onto this object and you might find that your panic symptoms begin to fade away.
3. Smell some lavender
Lavender is well known for being calming and stress-relieving. Keep some lavender essential oil in your handbag or at your desk and put some onto your wrists or forearms when you experience a panic attack. Deeply breathe in its scent and feel your body start to relax.
4. Recognise that you’re having an attack
If you suffer from regular panic or anxiety attacks then you’ll know the signs all too well, but it can be easy to get swept away by them. Try to remind yourself that this is a panic attack, it is temporary, it will pass and you will be OK.
5. Do some light exercise
If you wake up feeling particularly stressed or anxious, and you are able, try to engage in some light exercise. Whether it’s a walk, a leisurely swim, a relaxing yoga class or a short cycle ride these gentle activities will help to fill your body with endorphins which can in turn improve your mood. This might help prevent a panic attack from coming on.
6. Shut your eyes
If you’re surrounded by a busy, fast-paced environment such as a bustling office or jam packed public transport all of the stimuli around you can overwhelm and fuel a panic attack. Try to close your eyes, shut everything out and focus on your breathing.
7. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a brilliant grounding practice. Given that panic attacks can cause feelings of detachment from reality, mindfulness can really help to combat or prevent a panic attack. Bring your attention to physical sensations – perhaps press your feet into the ground, feel the texture of your clothes on your skin, or notice how the breath feels as it enters and leaves your nostrils. These sensations will keep you grounded in reality and give you a focus.
8. Relax your muscles
Often fear and stress gets held in our muscles. Relaxing our body can, in turn, help us to relax our mind. Try to consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with your fingers and hands and working your way through your body.
9. Go to your happy place
Dream up the most relaxing place in the world that you can think of. A meadow filled with wild flowers? A beach with gentle, lapping waves? A snowcapped mountain? Whatever your spot is, place yourself there and focus on the details as much as you can – the smell of the flowers, your toes in the sand or the feeling of snow crunching under foot.
10. Repeat a mantra
Internally repeating a mantra will not only give you something to focus on during a panic attack but it can be relaxing and reassuring. Repeat it on a loop in your head until the anxiety begins to subside. Think ‘This will pass’ or ‘I am calm’ or ‘I am OK’.
Unpack your toolkit when you need it most
These tools are all easily accessible, the trick is remembering that they can help when you’re in the throes of an attack. If your mind is racing at a hundred miles an hour these might be far from your thoughts so consider writing them down somewhere where they can be easily found – perhaps your phone or a notepad you carry with you.
Remember, not all of these tools will work for you, give them a go and if you find one that helps then draw on it every time you need it.