3 Better Techniques to Manage Panic Attacks.
Panic attacks or panic episodes can be incredibly distressing experiences. It is estimated that 1.7% of the UK population experience panic disorder during any given year. It was furthermore found that as many as 25% of all emergency department admissions for chest pain are later diagnosed as panic attacks.
Many sufferers of panic disorder are typically taught breathing exercises to reduce their intense feelings of anxiety and distress. I have however heard countless recollections from patients describing these exercises as limited in their effectiveness, or completely unbeneficial. Breathing exercises are often incapable of distracting a mind that is rapidly spiralling into a state of extreme fear. I therefore recommend the following 3 exercises as an essential toolkit for anyone who experiences panic attacks:
1. The “30-60-90” Technique:
This technique is gloriously effective at both distracting the mind and breaking through any ‘freezing’ panic response. When you suspect the imminent onset of a panic attack or episode, ask yourself “What will I be doing in 30minutes time?”. Picture the answer in your mind or verbalise it out loud. Perhaps you will be on a lunch break, taking a trip to the shops, or finishing your maths class. See yourself clearly completing this mundane activity, and allow your mind to see how safe and in control you are.
Once you have answered this question for yourself, ask “What will I be doing in 60minutes time?”. Again, visualise the answer, or say it out loud. Maybe in an hour you are wrapping up a Zoom call, collecting the kids from school, or just making yourself a sandwich. See how easily you manage these simple everyday tasks, and again allow your mind to focus on how safe you are.
Finally, when you have pictured both of these scenarios, ask “What will I be doing in 90-minutes time?”. In 90-minuntes time you could be calling a friend, catching up on your favourite T.V show, or getting ready for a good night’s sleep. Your mind will once more visualise how manageable and enjoyable these activities will be, and remember how safe and in control you are.
Letting your thoughts picture you safely in the future effectively counters the rising sensations of panic as it proves the fears of being out of control and in danger are unfounded.
2. The Senses Technique:
This alternative approach is an excellent mindfulness exercise as well as a strong counter to panic symptoms. It focuses the mind on the present moment and distracts it from any fears of the future that may be contributing to the panic.
If you feel a sudden and intense surge of anxiety, look around you and name:
5 things you can see.
4 things you can hear.
3 things you can touch.
2 things you can smell.
1 thing you can taste.
This exercise will calm you by grounding you mentally and physically, making it particularly effective for those who experience derealisation, dizziness, or numbness during a panic episode.
3. The Colour Technique:
Perhaps the simplest technique of the three, the Colour technique is ideal for children or those who require a rapid counter to their panic sensations. The method is as follows:
1. Pick a colour.
2. Find 5 things in your surroundings that are that colour.
Yep, that’s it! The visual search and mental shift in focus from emotions to colours is often all that is necessary to disrupt the path of a panic attack. You can also repeat this exercise with as many colours as necessary until you feel completely calm once more.
Try these techniques for yourself, or share them with someone who’s life may become a little easier. If you would like to learn more ways to overcome panic disorder, consider contacting the practice today.