Panic attacks are like uninvited guests at the door of your mind, barging in at the most inconvenient times. But just like unwelcome visitors, there are various strategies to usher them out quickly and restore peace. If you’re in the bustling state of New York, where stress is more common than sunshine, odds are you’ve either experienced a panic attack or know someone who has. Here at Clearwave Mental Health, we understand the acute necessity to arm ourselves with the tools to combat these episodes that can make life feel overwhelming. In this comprehensive article, we outline the tried-and-tested ways alongside a few unusual strategies that can help you control and even stop your panic attack in its tracks.

Defining Panic Attacks: What You Need to Know

Before we can tackle an issue, it is important to understand what we are up against. Panic attacks are intense surges of fear and anxiety that can feel like a heart attack or make you believe you’re going crazy. They are often associated with a fear of losing control, going ‘crazy’, or even dying. These episodes can occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.

Recognizing the Symptoms

  • Heart palpitations or a racing heart
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
  • A choking sensation
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • A fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flushes

Quick Remedies: Immediate Response to a Panic Attack

When it comes to panic attacks, quick response is key. Here are some methods you can employ the moment a panic attack rears its head.

Deep Breathing and Grounding Techniques

Engaging in deep breathing exercises or grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method — acknowledging 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste — can help refocus your mind and calm your body’s stress responses.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in the body to reduce overall tension. Starting with the toes and working all the way up to the shoulders, this technique can relieve muscle tension and mitigate the stress response.

Mindful Distraction

Mindfulness and distraction are powerful tools. Instead of fighting the symptoms head-on, engage your mind with a complex task or immerse yourself in the present moment through mindfulness techniques. Focusing on a soothing object or a painting can also help redirect your thoughts.

Long-Term Prevention: The Best Strategies to Halt Panic Attacks Before They Start

Know Your Triggers

Understanding your individual panic triggers can be illuminating. It allows you to predict and possibly avoid situations that might stimulate an attack.

Regular Exercise and Healthy Diet

Physical health and mental health are interconnected. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep can lay a robust foundation for mental wellbeing, reducing the frequency of panic attacks. Incorporating anxiety-fighting foods such as dark chocolate, avocado, and nuts can also be beneficial.

Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is renowned for its effectiveness in treating panic disorder. It can help you understand and change the thought patterns that lead to panic attacks, providing long-term relief.

The Power of Medication: When to Consider Pharmaceutical Aid

For those with severe or persistent panic disorder, medication may be an essential part of treatment. Consult one of our psychiatrists to explore options such as SSRI antidepressants or benzodiazepines for use during acute panic attacks.

Seeking Professional Help: The Therapist’s Toolkit for Panic Disorder

Therapists can be a beacon of hope in the storm of panic attacks. They can equip you with personalized tools to overcome panic and provide a supportive environment for understanding and managing your anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually facing your fears in a safe environment. Under the guidance of a therapist, you can confront panic triggers, slowly desensitizing yourself and reducing your overall anxiety.

Track Your Attacks

A therapist may encourage you to maintain a panic attack journal. Tracking when and where the attacks occur can help identify patterns and formulate a targeted management plan.

Unconventional Approaches: Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes, conventional methods don’t quite cut it. Here are some more unorthodox approaches to consider.

Aromatherapy - Photo by Tiara Leitzman on Unsplash
Photo by Tiara Leitzman on Unsplash

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

Certain scents can have a calming effect, such as lavender and rose. Keeping a vial of essential oil with you can provide a quick dose of relaxation when you need it most. 

NB: Please do be aware that there is very little scientific proof in the success of aromatherapy when it comes to preventing or assisting in panic attacks. Test any oils you may want to use on a small patch of skin as you could experience an adverse reaction or skin allergy to the oils.

Pressure Points and Acupressure

Stimulating specific pressure points on the body can help alleviate anxiety. The point between the eyebrows, top of the head, and inner wrist are known to be particularly effective.

Technology: Apps and Wearables for Anxiety Management

In the modern age, technology offers a host of resources at your fingertips. There are apps that guide you through meditation, monitor your stress levels, and even bracelets that vibrate to remind you to breathe and relax.

Creating Your Personalized Panic Attack Emergency Kit

Gathering your emergency kit for panic attacks is akin to the act of preparing for a storm. Stock it with the tools and methods that have proven most effective for you, ensuring it’s always within reach.

Inclusion Criteria

  • Methods of distraction (e.g. puzzles, a digital playlist of calming music)
  • Documentation outlining your personalized coping strategies
  • A list of emergency contacts
  • Specially-chosen items that offer immediate comfort (think a soft blanket, a photo that brings you joy, or a stress ball)

Regular Review and Update

Revisit your emergency kit periodically to discard tools that no longer work and include new items or techniques that have shown promise.

Stay Educated and Proactive

Knowledge is power. Educate yourself about panic attacks, mindfulness, and stress management. Seek out workshops, books, or even group therapy sessions to learn new coping skills.

The Journey is Yours

Remember, managing panic attacks is a deeply personal endeavor. What works for one might not work for another. Be patient, stay proactive, and be kind to yourself. Through diligent exploration of these strategies, you can bridge the gaps in your panic attack management plan, and hopefully, over time, you’ll experience a significant reduction in the severity and frequency of these distressing episodes. If you are in the thick of the struggle, please know there is hope and help available. You are not alone in this. Our caring psychiatrists are available to assist you with panic attack treatment and more. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.