Symptoms of panic attacks can appear to arise out of nowhere. The most common symptoms are vertigo, nausea, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, numbness, tingling, cold sensations, and sweating. They are often confused for emergency medical situations such as a heart attack or stroke, amounting to over 1.2 million visits to emergency rooms annually. Of course, it is always important to rule out physical conditions. The panic experience can be frightening and overwhelming. Fear of the experience repeating itself feeds future anxiety.

The medical community often treats the symptoms of panic attacks or panic disorder with benzodiazepines, potentially addictive sedatives. These medications can be dangerous when mixed with other drugs and alcohol and extremely difficult to withdraw from. So what options exist for those looking for a holistic approach? 

Ten Practices to lower anxiety and reduce panic attacks

Mindfulness-based interventions combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy and meditation are known to have the highest success rate in treating panic attacks and anxiety. Here are some mindfulness-based techniques that can help mitigate panic attacks:

1. Start a daily 20-minute mindfulness meditation practice. Thoughts constantly rise and fall in the mind. The key is whether or not you get involved. Meditation teaches you how to let thoughts go down the river without getting involved. 

2. Practice daily relaxation and breathing techniques such as 4-3-5 breathing. Breathe in four counts, hold three counts, and exhale for five counts. Repeat this process six to eight times. 

3. Practice getting in your senses. Spend time focusing on hearing, smelling, tasting, sensing, and seeing rather than thinking. 

4. Notice the tendency to go to the worst-case scenario. Instead, ask yourself, “What is the mediocre and best-case scenario?”

5. Stop ruminating by distracting yourself. Rumination is an addictive behavior and never solves problems. Read or listen to a short recording, call a friend, or take a walk. 

6. See your thoughts as a bully trying to push you down a flight of stairs. The stairs are representative of a negative thought spiral. Stand up to the thought and put it in time out by diverting attention from it.

7. Behind every panic attack is a catastrophizing thought and often a demand statement. Reflect and ask yourself what situations have been at the forefront of your mind before the rise in anxiety.

8. Ask yourself, if x happened would you be able to stand it? You may not like what is happening, but you have no choice but to stand it.

9. Rational-emotive-behavior therapy teaches clients how to change their thinking and behaviors. It is highly effective in reducing overall anxiety as well as panic attacks.

10. Stay in the present moment by focusing on your senses. Anxiety thoughts are illusory future possible outcomes. Why would you expend a tremendous amount of psychic energy on an event that has not even happened and may never happen?

Be Conscious of Your Body

Get in the habit of checking in with the breath, body, and mind. Notice the length of the breath. Is it deep and filling the belly or shallow? Is the breath fast or slow? Is it smooth or rough? Do you notice a temperature as it enters or exits the nostrils? Scan your body from the top of your head to the toes noting sensations and discomfort along the way. Then ask yourself, “What does my mind feel like?” Does it feel squeezed? Spacious? Hot? Does it feel like a beehive?

Just because you have an anxiety thought with a subsequent physical solid sensation in the body does not make the thought accurate. Be curious, investigate the feelings, and notice how you quickly label it anxiety. Could it be excitement?

The Takeaways

Ultimately, anxiety and panic attacks come from the repetition of catastrophizing thoughts. By awfulizing and thinking you can’t stand the possible outcome, you build a neural pathway in the brain. In the mountains, roads are often higher in the center and slope down on each side to feed water runoff into large ditches. In wet weather, this design can make cars more prone to sliding and landing in the gutter, needing a tow. The brain is like a mountain road. You will be more inclined to slide into old neural pathways when tired or too busy. If you practice transmuting your catastrophizing thoughts and behaviors, you can build a new neural pathway/road in the brain to bypass the old anxiety loops. 

You may be hostage to superstitious thinking that you are doomed to fail if you don’t worry about the test. Reality will prove that the calmer you are, the more precise and better you will perform.

Panic attacks and anxiety can be frightening and disruptive. But the good news is that with support from an online cognitive-behavioral therapist, you can begin to feel a positive shift within three to four sessions if you apply the skills. Allow for three to four months to solidify the new habit pattern. If you’re looking for a new therapist to help you begin this positive journey with mental health, click below to schedule a 20-minute phone consultation. I specialize in using evidence-based mindfulness techniques to help build positive neural pathways.  

Go Mindful Counseling

Go Mindful Counseling offers compassionate and effective phone therapy and online therapy for anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, stress, insomnia, and addictive behaviors (see the website for the full list of treatment options).  We provide cognitive behavioral therapy through in-person sessions, online video conferencing, and phone. Click below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation.

Margie Ahern
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