People Management

How do you manage a panic attack?

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…” Yes, you know the lyrics. That’s how a panic attack can start. It’s not a girls’ thing, it can happen to anyone. Fact is every single person will experience a panic attack at least once or twice in their lifetime, even if they don’t admit it. It can be something occasional or constant.

You’re ready to give a presentation, or enter a stage, you’re in a contest and all eyes are on you and suddenly you start to feel a bunch of the following symptoms: your heart beats faster, breathing accelerates, you’re sweating, you feel like you’re going to lose control, you have an unjustified feeling of danger, you start sweating, get the chills, maybe you’re choking a bit, you get nausea, headache, you’re dizzy, about to faint or feeling numbed, perhaps detached. Worst part is that after you experience a first panic attack, you’re going to fear even more that it’s going to happen again. The important aspect is that you are feeling all, or most of this, without facing a real danger or an apparent cause.

Alright, enough with the scary stories because this is not what we tell on this site. Here we provide working solutions to real problems.

The immediate solution to recover fast

You don’t have to be on stage or in front of an audience. You might have a panic attack even while driving and you need to recover fast. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Control your breathing and breathe deeply. Start breathing in slowly and exhaling slowly. While doing this move on to the next step.

2. Acknowledge all your senses one by one:

  • Look around. What do you see? Acknowledge it: “I’m in a room with white walls, office furniture, a black desk chair, etc” Describe in words exactly what you see.
  • Touch. Pick the closest object next to you, even your clothing, any sort of unanimated object and acknowledge the texture: “It’s soft, warm, smooth, feels pleasant”
  • Listen. Acknowledge what you hear: “I hear music in the background, people talking, someone shouting outside, etc”
  • Smell. As you breathe in acknowledge the smell: “It’s a smell of new furniture, I can also smell some vanilla probably from an incense stick, I can smell a perfume, possibly with lilies in it”
  • Taste. “I can still feel the taste of coffee in my mouth and the sweets I’ve eaten”

3. Repeat. Don’t think about anything else, just repeat. Some people will recover after doing this once, most people will need to do it 2-3x. It’s ok, it doesn’t take long to go through the exercise. You can recover in 1-2 minutes.

The long term solution

The long term solution is for a(n implicitly long term) disorder. If you are constantly facing panic attacks and it is a chronic problem indeed, then you need to understand you did not arrive to that over night. Panic attacks always accompany anxiety and anxiety installs itself on top of depression. You can deny it as much as you want, but this is the way our brain works.

As in any illness that you want to cure, you can’t work only at the symptoms level, you need to address the underlying cause. That means you need to address the root cause of your depression. As you start working on that all the symptoms on top of it, start to diminish.

What I encourage you to do is to work with someone specialised, a therapist. It will be at least two times faster (if not more) than trying to read self-help books and address it by yourself. It’s all a matter of how bad you want to solve it. Whenever you start, however you start, don’t be harsh on yourself, it’s not a competition. Some people can go through this process faster, other go slower. It’s perfectly fine: you are taking steps to improve and you’re building a foundation.

So next time you’re facing a panic attack, just remember: it’s not a big deal. Apply the immediate solution, then go out there and do your thing. If it happens too often, go see a specialised therapist and improve all aspects of your life. It’s that easy.

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