Tips for Panic Disorders

As the world that we know is changing and evolving every day, it is understandably a cause of heightened anxiety and panic. However, it doesn’t have to prevent you from doing the things you love or enjoying your day-to-day life. The first step to regaining control of your life is to learn about what causes anxiety, and how panic arises from it.

Step 1: What is anxiety?

While worry or stress is a normal part of life, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive, or persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Symptoms of anxiety are feeling nervous, an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, or have trouble sleeping.

Anxiety is normal, and it helps us prepare for danger. The goal is to manage anxiety, not eliminate it. Anxiety can become a real problem when our body tells us that there is danger, but there is no real danger present.


Step 2: When does anxiety turn into panic?

Panic involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety that reach a peak within minutes (called panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid heartbeat.


Panic attacks are the body’s fight or flight response kicking in, and it is the response that gets the body ready to defend itself against danger. When the heart beats faster, it pumps blood to our muscles so we have the energy to run away or fight off danger.


Step 3: How does panic turn into panic disorder?

A panic disorder results from misinterpreting the bodily sensations associated with the fight or flight response as dangerous, and living in fear of having attacks – causing you to ultimately avoid things that trigger panic.


Complications may turn into the development of specific phobias, avoidance of social situations, problems with work and school, depression, and anxiety. So how can we prevent this?


Tips for Panic Disorders: Building Your Toolbox

The goal is not to eliminate panic attacks but to learn to manage them with awareness and without fear. Here are some common tools to keep in mind the next time you or somebody you know is feeling panicked.

  1. Learn to relax.

As the nervous system activates and many senses in your body are heightened, it is important to find ways to relax the body and mind. Breathing may seem simple and obvious, but it can actually reduce many of the physical symptoms experienced during a panic attack. We breathe faster when we are anxious, which can make us dizzy or lightheaded. When we calm our breathing down, we regulate the speed and help manage the uncomfortable feelings associated with panic.

Another way to relax is to unclench any tightened muscles. Muscles unconsciously tense up during a panic attack, and relaxing them helps lower tension and stress levels.


  1. Put the situation in perspective.

Identifying and understanding what you fear as a result of panic attacks is important, because knowledge is power when it comes to controlling panic attacks. Examples of common fears related to panic attacks are: “I will embarrass myself,” “It will go on forever,” “I will have a heart attack.”

These fears associated with panic attacks can be grouped into either overestimating or catastrophizing. Ways to conquer overestimating is to not believe that something highly unlikely, like a heart attack, is going to occur, and ways to conquer catastrophizing is to not imagine the worst possible thing happening, and to understand that the reality of the situation is far different than the situation in our heads.


  1. Face your fears.

Once you stop catastrophizing the fears associated with panic attacks, you can face them for what they are. Getting the facts of panic attacks and understanding what is happening to your body and mind during them will help to overcome them. Remember, the goal is to let yourself feel the feelings, and not to fight them.


We Can Help

Practice makes perfect, and panic attacks can be a scary occurrence for any person to endure. Just remember to stay calm and remind yourself that this feeling will pass. However, if your panic attacks have become unmanageable, speak with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to reduce the emotions and effects caused by panic and anxiety.

Foothills Neurology