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Beating the panic

Monday, June 26, 2017

If you suffer from panic attacks, you know how debilitating they can be. Aakriti Patni decodes these anxious episodes and has some helpful tips to overcome an attack

Have you ever been so stressed that you’re almost pulling your hair out and you find it difficult to breathe? You feel an overwhelming sense of panic, your heart is beating at an abnormal rate, and you feel waves of dread and despair hit you. You are paralysed with fear and you feel an impending sense of doom. Chances are, if you have had an experience like this, you have suffered from a panic attack.

Dr. Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist at Hinduja Hospital & Medical Research Centre, describes a panic attack as “a sudden surge of extreme anxiety and panic”. She says, “You experience the pounding of your heart, breathlessness, giddiness and palpitations, so much so, that you may believe that you are experiencing a heart attack.” But, panic attacks lie in the mind and not in the heart.

Often you may find it hard to understand the reason or the cause for your panic and anxiety. But, panic attacks are sneaky and you can almost never identify their onset. Finding the exact trigger of the panic attack is difficult, but you can learn to pin-point situations and instances that may bring on your panic and anxiety, which if prolonged can lead to full-blown panic attacks.

  • Unsettling situations: If you experience tension, butterflies in your stomach or an urge to flee the room (in certain situations), those circumstances could be causing you to panic and feel anxious. People may experience such feelings at any given point — in a crowded elevator, at a party, while on a holiday. There really isn’t an explanation or guide to understand why. But, you can recognise the situations causing panic and anxiety by being aware of your feelings and not suppressing them.
  • People: Circumstances are not the only reason why you may feel anxious or launch into panic mode. Very often, the people you are surrounded by may unconsciously be causing you to panic. If you feel a sense of dismay when talking to a certain person or you feel the urge to avoid a particular person and run from the room when he/she enters, it is possible that this person is causing you to panic.
  • Activities: There may be certain activities or events in which you have to participate which may cause you to panic or be anxious. These situations are easier to recognise than other triggers as they are fixed in their duration and onset, and thus, the panic may subside once the activity is over. Such situations usually create some amount of panic and anxiety within everybody and are, in general, easier to handle.

There are many types of anxieties as well, such as generalised anxiety and social anxiety. Understanding which type of anxiety you experience will help you to identify the onset of a panic attack and how to control them.

Giving in to panic and allowing the attack to take over your body and mind will solidify the situation that caused you to panic, and fool your mind into thinking that the situation poses some threat or danger.

Counselling psychologist Dr. Kinjal Pandya tells us about a few exercises you can try to deal with panic attacks. “Therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy and rational emotive behaviour therapy can work well, along with some medications. However, replacement therapy (cognitive restructuring) too, along with dietary regulations and physical exercise, can be extremely helpful in reducing anxiety.” 

While such therapies are nice solutions, it you should know how to deal with oncoming panic attacks. Being able to control the attack is the best way to manage it, and will help you feel in control of your body and mind.

As basic as it sounds, focusing on your breathing is one of the best techniques to calm down during a panic attack. Practise this routine when you feel an oncoming attack.

  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Count to 10 before exhaling. Repeat this process until you feel yourself calming down and settled.
  • As you focus on breathing in and out, become aware of your body. Clench and unclench your fingers and toes, synchronising this with your breathing. Repeat this process with other muscles of the body, causing them to relax over time.

When you start to feel the panic take over your body, resist the need to curl up in a corner like a ball. Go for a walk instead, taking long strides and even jumping if you can. If you are in a restaurant or party, walk around the area while focusing on your breathing. Allowing the body to move will burn excess energy created by the anxiety and will also distract your mind.

Challenge your mind
It is the mind that the panic weakens, and thus winning over the mind is the best solution to control a panic attack. Keep your mind working — think of mathematics formulae, recite the great leaders of the world, or just try to recall what you did the previous day. But keep the mind busy.

The power of creative visualisation is like no other. Visualising yourself in your happy place can calm you down. Listen to your favourite songs or put on a video that makes you feel happy. The goal here is to replace the panic with what makes you feel safe and content. It is essential to use such learned techniques to calm yourself down, so that you’re not caught off guard when panic hits you.

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