If you are like most people, you may think panic attacks and anxiety attacks are the same things. However, they are not the same. Panic attacks strike suddenly and activate the body’s natural fight or flight response. The most common symptoms of a panic attack include rapid breathing, chest pain, numbness, heart palpitations and dizziness. Anxiety attacks last for a longer period of time than panic attacks. In fact, anxiety attacks can last days or even months. The symptoms associated with anxiety attacks include poor sleep, tense muscles, fatigue, and restlessness.
When a person is in the throes of a panic attack, their brain reacts and activates the fight or flight response. This is an innate response that is triggered when a person’s life is threatened. This response occurs in combat and other life-threatening situations. The body responds to these situations by focusing on the danger so the person can make a decision quickly, the muscles in the body tense so that they are ready to respond quickly, and breathing and circulation increases to supply the body with more oxygen.
Although the situations surrounding a panic attack are not life threatening, the same symptoms are experienced. Many people who experience a panic attack say that it feels as if they are dying. It is essential that those going through a panic attack concentrate on their breathing. The patient should close their eyes and take slow deep breaths to help calm the body and the mind.
Those suffering from a panic attack can find it difficult to understand complex instructions. The fear they are experiencing is very real to them and overwhelms them. If you are with someone and they are having a panic attack, speak in short sentences and do not argue with them. Instead, speak calmly and use short sentences, such as “Breathe in, (pause) breathe out.”
When someone is experiencing a panic attack, the stress can overwhelm them. They begin breathing fast, which can lead to hyperventilation and dizziness. When a person hyperventilates they can have a difficult time slowing their breathing down. You can help them by counting to two on the inhalation and then two on their exhalation. After a minute of breathing following your count, try to increase it to a four count inhalation and a four-count exhalation for a couple of minutes. Then, increase the count to six.
You could also try to get the sufferer to breathe out for a couple of seconds longer than their inhalations. For example, count to 2 on the inhalation and 4 on the exhalation. This type of breathing can trigger the body to stop producing adrenaline and relax.
Get Them To Focus On Something Else
Never try to diminish their anxieties. What the sufferer is feeling is very real and very scary to them. Instead, try to help them focus on their surroundings or focus internally. By trying to get them to focus on what is happening around them or having them close their eyes and focus on centering themselves, you can help them reign in their anxieties.
Ask them to recognize all five of their senses. For example, ask them to name five things they can currently feel, such as the air temperature, their clothing, where they are sitting, etc. Then ask them to describe five sounds they are hearing, five things they can smell, five things they can see and five things they can taste. Doing this can get the sufferer to stop focusing on their panic and begin focusing on reality. Remind them that they are safe and you are there. Let them know nothing is going to happen to them.
Essential Oils Can Help
If you have any lavender oil or citrus close by, you can use it to help calm someone who is panicking. Many people think this is crazy and ineffective; however, studies have shown that these essential oils can calm anxiety. Those suffering from general anxiety disorder (GAD) can benefit from a lavender oil tablet, such as Silexan. These have been shown to work just as well as lorazepam. If you or someone you love suffer from anxiety, carry a bottle of essential oil to help calm their mind.
Even when someone is in the throes of an anxiety attack, they can still be rational. If they ask you to do something to help them, do it immediately. It may be getting them to a different location or giving them an item to help calm them. Many sufferers have an action plan that will help get them through an anxiety or panic attack. If someone you care about has panic attacks regularly, ask them if they have an action plan to help them overcome their panic.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
General anxiety disorder and panic attacks can be managed and overcome with proper treatment. Unfortunately, the ADAA reports that only about a third of those suffering from these disorders seek treatment. If you have a friend or family member who suffers from panic attacks or an anxiety disorder, encourage them to seek help from a professional.
In addition to seeking professional help, panic and anxiety sufferers can benefit from lifestyle changes. For example, exercise has been shown to be an effective means of stress relief. In addition to exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises and meditation can help those suffering from generalized anxiety disorders. Adopting a healthier lifestyle by quitting smoking, reducing alcohol and caffeine, and supplementing diets with omega-3 fatty acids are also effective ways to help.
Ferdinand Marin is the publisher of CBT Worksheets, providing custom worksheets which help mental health professionals to more effectively and accurately use the Cognitive Behavioral Method in their practices. Visit CBTWorksheets.com to learn more.