health

Think you could be having a panic attack? Here's what you need to do.

Rule number one: stay calm. Image via iStock

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first time or the fiftieth, panic attacks can be extremely scary.

Beyond Blue estimates that approximately 40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack at some stage in their lives, while five per cent of Australians will suffer from recurrent panic attacks, known as panic disorder.

When there’s no warning, it can be frightening for both you and those around you to deal with. However, there is a way tackle them.

RELATED: Casey Cahill filmed himself during a panic attack to prove anxiety disorders are real – and serious

Yuliya Richard, a psychologist at Blue Horizon Counselling, believes that learning to recognise the symptoms and preparing a plan is the best way to cope.

According to Richard, there are many symptoms that signal you might be having a panic attack.

They could happen individually, or all at once.

Know the symptoms.

  • Legs turning to jelly
  • Feeling breathless or as though you are choking
  • Feeling restless
  • Sweating, shivering or trembling
  • Wanting to run but not being able to
  • Racing heart or heart palpitations
  • Dizziness, disorientation and a lightheaded feeling
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Experiencing a feeling of dread
  • Thinking “I am going to die” or “I am going crazy”.

During a typical attack, you may experience a range of these strong physical sensations as well as fearful or scared thoughts. (Post continues after gallery.)

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“Because such attacks often feel like they happened out of the blue, people usually start to worry about it happening again unexpectedly and so feel very stressed out,” she says.

1. Acceptance

The first step in managing a panic attack is acceptance. Panic attacks are not discriminatory – they can happen to anyone, regardless of how healthy or successful you are.

“First, obtain medical clearance from your doctor that there are no underlying medical conditions,” Richard says.

RELATED: “It forces me to be like a Zen master”: Emma Stone explains how she manages her panic attacks

“Realise that you do not have to continue suffering from panic attacks. Acceptance does not mean surrender, it only means that you recognise what you are dealing with and that you will take steps to deal with this issue,” she says.

2. Inform yourself

Do your research. Image via iStock.

Richard says it's extremely important to learn about panic attacks and what happens to your body when you experience them.

This helps to rationalise some of the thoughts you might have during an attack.

"For example: If you're thinking 'It feels as if I am going to suffocate', you can rationalise that you are not going to suffer during a panic attack," she says.

RELATED: This is what it actually feels like to have a panic attack

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"Although you might feel tightness in your chest and restricted breathing, this is because under stress the muscles of your neck and chest tighten temporarily and reduce your respiratory capacity. This tightening sensation will pass. Although it is highly unpleasant, it is not dangerous."

Remember, it's not going to last forever.

3. Breathe.

"It might sound obvious, but sometimes our breathing can cause us to feel as if we are losing control and exacerbate the feelings of anxiety and tension," Richard says. (Post continues after gallery.)

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"Often when we experience a sensation as if we are going to suffocate, we try to breathe faster in order to get more air, and it results in letting off too much carbon dioxide, which might result in you feeling agitated and weird. Try abdominal breathing for a few minutes."

4. Learn to relax

It's important to look for new ways to relax, such as progressive muscle relaxation, conducting a body scan or practicing mindfulness relaxation.

RELATED: What not to do when someone is having a panic attack

5. Let it pass

Remember: this is only temporary. It will pass.

"Imagine that you are just observing the sensations come and go, they are not dangerous, they are simply uncomfortable and they will pass," she says. (Post continues after gallery.)

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"If you find yourself drawn to interpreting your increased breathing and making yourself even more worried. Just pause and focus on your breathing and remind yourself that these sensations will pass."

6. Evaluate

Take time to stop and look at your lifestyle: your stress levels, your relationships, career stress and overall physical and mental health.

"Many different factors can have a detrimental impact on the way you feel and increase your stress levels and your vulnerability to future panic attacks," Richard says.

RELATED: 16 people on the techniques they use to manage their stress

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"Take steps to look after yourself well, aim for a healthy balance and engage in pleasurable, meaningful activities."

7. Acknowledge your effort

It's also important to acknowledge and congratulate yourself on all the steps you have taken to deal with panic attacks.

"Every time you take a step to deal with the panic attacks you are getting stronger and the attacks are getting weaker," Richard says.

"If you do not take a stance against them you risk living in fear and excessive worry about when they are going to strike again."

"It might be difficult to imagine it right now, but by keeping the focus on health and wellness, and on adaptive and effective strategies, you will win this battle."

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Do you have panic attacks? What coping strategies work for you?

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