Generally speaking, the quicker a panic attack is stopped, the less severe the symptoms will be, making the experience less traumatic.
However, it is one thing to say ‘stop a panic attack as soon as possible’ and another thing to actually do this.
There are several techniques and exercises you can employ at the first sign of a panic attack to prevent it from developing further. Continue these exercises until the symptoms have completely cleared and you are feeling back to normal.
This is the first thing you should remember because once your breathing becomes too fast it will become more difficult to control. Breathe in as deeply as you can, counting slowly to 3 (as in 3 seconds) and then breathe out to a count of between 5 and 8. Do this as slowly as possible. Pursing your lips will make this easier to do. Holding your hands to your stomach can also help you control your breathing and make you more aware of how rapid your breaths are.
If you are unable to slow your breathing and begin to hyperventilate (taking shallow and very quick breaths) then breathing into a paper bag, or cupping your hands over your nose and mouth and breathing, will help. When you hyperventilate, the level of carbon dioxide in your blood goes down, affecting the function of your muscles and nerves. This gives rise to the symptoms of tingling and muscle cramps. Breathing into a bag increases the amount of carbon dioxide you take in and helps bring levels in your blood back up.
When you are able to control your breathing, focus attention towards your muscles. Concentrate first on your neck and shoulders, turning your head from side to side to stretch your muscles. Next, rotate both shoulders. These steps can be taken discreetly if you do not want those around you to know that you are suffering a panic attack.
If you are alone, you can work on the other muscles in your body, and a simple way to get them relaxed is to walk around the room slowly, swinging your arms about. Some people find that stretching their arms above their head when they first begin to panic also helps.
As panic attacks come about as a result of the ‘fight or flight’ instinct’; by trying to carry on as normal, you will be giving your body signals that there is no need to panic as there is no imminent danger. Although it can seem hard at the time, by convincing your body that there is nothing about to attack you, it will stop producing the stress chemicals into your bloodstream, allowing you to recover more quickly. If you expect the panic attack to end quickly it is likely to, so always think positively.
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