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When a sudden, overwhelming sense of fear appears, even though there is no imminent danger, this is called a panic attack. Panic attacks are a form of anxiety disorder and a physical response to the brain's mistimed attempt to shield you from harm. While experts don't yet understand why some people have anxiety disorders, they do know that panic attacks are common and treatable.
In addition to treatments like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety management and relaxation techniques for panic attacks can help reduce discomfort from symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, and chest pain. Here are 10 techniques and tips to keep in mind.
1. Actively Manage Your Stress Levels
Panic attacks are less likely to occur when you're not already anxious or on edge, so you should learn how to manage your stress before it gets out of control. To achieve the maximum benefit, avoid substances that cause agitation, like caffeine, cold medication with pseudoephedrine, and illicit drugs.
2. Avoid Anxiety Triggers as Much as Possible
This may simply entail getting enough rest, eating well, and exercising. Less simply, avoiding anxiety triggers may involve planning around certain people or situations.
3. Make a Plan
More people are admitted to the hospital for treatment of panic disorder on weekends and holidays. If you're about to enter a situation that may trigger a panic attack, tell someone you trust and make a plan about how to handle an attack, should one occur. Having a plan and an assistant on hand can be a major stress reliever, as well as a necessity if symptoms become difficult to manage on your own.
4. Seek Good Social Support
When people you trust are aware that you're living with anxiety and working to establish control over panic attacks, you may in turn achieve better control and more physical comfort.
When you feel an attack starting, stop what you're doing, sit down, and take slow, deep breaths.
While breathing slowly and deeply, count to 10. If you aren't feeling better by the time you reach the end of the count, try counting to 20. Repeat as needed.
In addition to the above steps, the National Institute for Mental Health recommends meditation -- a mindfulness technique -- to help manage stress and decrease symptoms. Meditation is one of many available forms of self-help. Any positive action that you take on a regular basis to help achieve calmness, focus, and a sense of control may help mitigate panic attack symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy, if you practice it, falls into this category.
Some studies have shown that daily exercise can be helpful in controlling anxiety and limiting panic attacks in particular. This makes sense. Moderate to intense workouts elevate heart rate and induce sweating in a nonthreatening way. Over time, it may become easier to control your reaction to your heart racing when you're used to it racing on your own accord -- whether you're walking, running, biking, or doing another exercise you enjoy.
9. Take Your Prescribed Medication
If needed, ask someone to help you take it. If a friend or family member is not available, it's perfectly OK to ask if there's a health care provider nearby or call 911 for assistance.
10. Ask for Help
Never be afraid to explain your circumstances. Panic attacks are not dangerous. They usually only last a few minutes, but can be unnerving to those around you who don't understand what's happening and don't know how to help you. If you have a panic attack in the presence of people who don't know you well, the best course of action may be to quickly explain that you have a panic disorder and that the attack will pass if you're allowed to remain calm and use your techniques.
Studies looking into how and why our brains cause panic attacks are ongoing. In the meantime, work with your health care provider to choose the anxiety treatments that are best for you. As an adjunct to the therapies you and your doctor decide upon, the above steps and relaxation techniques for panic attacks may help decrease the severity of your symptoms and increase the number of anxiety-free days in your life.