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January 5, 2012

What to do if You Have a Panic Attack

For the two to six million Americans that suffer from panic attacks, what's the best way to deal with them? Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or panic accompanied by physical symptoms, like a racing heartbeat and dizziness. For people who suffer from panic attacks, it can be immensely helpful to learn in-the-moment anxiety management techniques. One particularly effective one is to breathe slowly and deeply at the first sign of an attack. This may sound simple, but during a panic attack, most people find that they either tend to hold their breath or that their breathing speeds up with their heartbeat, becoming shallow and somewhat ragged. These responses make symptoms worse, which is why individuals who suffer from panic attacks can benefit from breath re-training. To do this exercise, an individual finds a time when he or she is relaxed and then practices taking deep breaths from the diaphragm, rather than shallow ones from the chest. This means inhaling and expanding the belly, and then exhaling, and pushing all the air out of the belly. Also known as yoga breathing, this is a powerful way for people who feel out of control to help themselves when having an attack. Once a person masters this skill he or she can try it while walking or conversing with someone. Eventually, relaxing diaphragmatic breathing becomes second nature, so that it's easy to use even when panicking. Muscle relaxation goes hand-in-hand with this type of deep breathing. Anxiety causes muscles to tense up, so making a conscious effort to relax them one by one helps ease symptoms. The activity also takes a sufferer's mind off the attack itself. It's also vital to learn to stop and think during a panic attack. Sometimes, ending the cycle of racing thoughts can be as easy as taking a moment to focus on them. The "stop and think" method helps when fears of going insane or dying accompany a panic attack, a frequent and unfortunate occurrence. Finally, people with panic attacks need to be aware that stepping away from the panic-inducing situation can help ameliorate an attack. Sufferers shouldn't be afraid to leave, or to ask for help doing so. And while these self-help methods work, it can also be immensely effective to see a mental health professional to discuss anxiety management techniques. They will also be able to prescribe medication, like Klonopin or Xanax, which help ease panic symptoms. Remember, there is relief for panic attacks! If you can't get yours under control, get professional medical help!

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012