Health and Wellness

Understanding Panic Attacks



I’ve had a full-blown panic attack once before. Change is a common mental incubator for panic attacks, and mine occurred shortly after I decided to take a semester off from school. It truly came out of nowhere and I initially felt strange in a way I’d never felt before.

The physical symptoms built off each other as heavy breathing was followed by chest pain, jaw tightness, disorientation, and dizziness. An unprecedented feeling of doom overtook my mind as I thought I was going to die despite being safe in my home and feeling fine minutes before.

Several months after my experience, a friend of mine experienced her first panic attack during a shift at work. We both work at the same café and while she was clocked in, I happened to be eating there with my boyfriend. Immediately after she went upstairs to gain some peace in our break room, a coworker let me know what was happening and as someone who had been in her shoes only several months before, my first instinct was to check on her.

If this situation had happened a couple years ago, I’m positive I wouldn’t have known what to do. I probably would’ve made a dumb joke in an effort to awkwardly lighten the mood. However, my past experiences guided me in deciding and what my friend needed in that moment.

If you or a friend are experiencing a panic attack, gently heed the advice below:

Remember these feelings will pass

Panic attacks begin abruptly and peak after about 10 minutes and gradually lessen thereafter. Symptoms typically last 30-45 minutes but can occasionally last over an hour. One of the best ways to get through a panic attack is to remind yourself these feelings will fade. It’s also important to understand how they manifest themselves. You may begin with one or two symptoms and experience a multitude of others throughout your experience as they build on each other.

Remove yourself from the environment

Oftentimes removing ourselves from the environment where the panic attack began can help our mind reset. Giving our mind something new to focus on, like visual stimulation, can help distract it from panic symptoms.

Keep your mind busy

Panic attacks cause the mind to become hypersensitive to its surroundings. Keeping your mind busy with tasks can help ease symptoms and shorten the length of your attack. Drawing, reading, listening to music, or even sleeping are all ways to distract your mind while experiencing a panic attack.

Check each of your senses

During a panic attack, you may disassociate or feel disconnected from your surroundings. A simple yet effective method for combating this is to identify one thing you can smell, one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can taste, and one thing you can feel. This allows you the opportunity to stay grounded in its surroundings and also serves as a way to keep the mind busy.

Call someone you can trust

Sometimes, talking through what we’re physically feeling can help us understand and combat those feelings. When experiencing a panic attack, you may feel as if your life is about to end out of nowhere. In fact, it’s fairly common for those experiencing symptoms to think they’re having a heart attack rather than panic attack. Going through this alone is incredibly frightening and can worsen symptoms. If you are able to get in contact with someone you trust, let them know how you’re feeling and how they can help.

By Lilyana Bryan, Activist writer.

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