If you have ever suffered a panic attack, you will know how unpleasant they can be. During an attack, you may feel extremely anxious, hot, wobbly, dizzy and light-headed, with palpitations (increased heart rate), heart pounding or missing a beat, breathlessness and possibly 'de-realisation', when everything seems unreal or you feel as if you are floating, or disconnected from reality. Your thoughts will probably race and you may also experience visual disturbance, when colours or shapes seem to change. Because the physical symptoms of a panic attack feel so strong, people commonly fear they are physically ill and end up in hospital, only to be told there is nothing physically wrong with them and it's 'only' anxiety.
Cognitive therapy is proven to be extremely effective at treating panic attacks (and anxiety in general), so if you are having problems with panic, email email@example.com to book a session with me. There are also some simple, effective techniques you can use to help yourself:
1. Stay where you are. If you feel panic rising, don't try and rush somewhere safe. Just stay where you are until the panic subsides – it can be dangerous to try and drive, for example, during an attack.
2. Distract yourself. When you feel your anxiety rising and you feel any of the above symptoms, use distraction to take your focus away from the physical sensations in your body. Try staring intently at anything non-threatening, such as the second hand on your watch, or count anything – books on a bookshelf, bricks in a wall, tins in the cupboard – nearby. If you can concentrate, doing sudoku or crossword puzzles is good, as are times tables or counting down in twos from 100. Try different distraction techniques until you find the right one for you.
2. Breathe. Because people often feel they can't get enough air when they're anxious or panicky, they tend to gulp big breaths, which is what causes the feelings of dizziness and light-headedness. Consciously slow your breathing right down to a slow, steady count of three in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Finally, remember that anxiety may feel really unpleasant – but it cannot do you any harm at all. It always passes (usually in a matter of minutes) and can definitely be treated.