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What can I do to manage a panic attack?

A panic attack is a brief episode of intense anxiety which leads to sensations of fear lasting for a few minutes to half an hour. While it may feel like you are in great danger, most of the time you are safe, and the symptoms will eventually subside.

1. Recognise that you are having a panic attack

A helpful first step to managing a panic attack is recognising that you are having one. Some of the common signs to look out for include intense fear and anxiety, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and worrying about losing control. It can be powerful to remind yourself in the moment that you are safe, it is temporary, and it will pass. Repeating a mantra internally can be relaxing and reassuring, for example, “May I feel safe”.

2. Breathing exercise

Breathing can be difficult during a panic attack. There are many different breathing exercises, but the main idea is the same: to help you feel calmer and ease your symptoms.

  1. Notice your breathing. Take your time to focus on each breathe.

  2. Breathe in slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose for 3 seconds.

  3. Then breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth for 6 seconds.

It may help to close your eyes as you continue to focus on your breathing for at least 5 minutes.

3. Shifting your attention to the present

Sometimes focusing on the panic attack symptoms can feel overwhelming and feed into the anxiety. It can be helpful to practice grounding techniques to shift your attention to your surroundings.

5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Technique

  1. Look around and name 5 things you see. Notice the size, shape and colour of each things.

  2. Name 4 things you can touch. How does it feel on your hand, what is the texture – is it soft?

  3. Identify 3 things you can hear. Do you hear the wind blowing, hum of the air conditioner, or maybe music?

  4. Can you name 2 things that you can smell? How about your shirt or hair? You may choose to find something to smell such as your perfume or an infuser.

  5. Lastly, try and focus on 1 thing you can taste.

Being in-tune with your environment is a good way to reconnect with the present.

4. Self-Compassion (loving kindness) & Panic Surfing

Be kind to yourself. Consider what you would say to a friend if they were experiencing the same panic attack symptoms. Try and give yourself the same reassurances. Panic attack can be like surfing a wave, it builds up, peaks and then washes up on the beach. Try not to rush yourself through the panic attack. When you feel ready, return back to what you were doing.

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