How to Cure Panic Attack?

How to Cure Panic Attack?
Written By: Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 21-03-2024

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How it feels: 

“It was dark, I could barely breathe. It felt like I was losing everything I had, I had no one to blame, and my mother kept asking me what had happened to me..of course, it was not common to shiver and sweat in December in a city like Chandigarh. I felt helpless and doomed, all I could think of was my death and what would happen if I lost my sanity. My father kept rubbing my cold feet, my body was otherwise sweating, the day was when I failed my NEET exam for the third time.”

Understanding Panic attack

Panic attacks could be understood as a sudden feeling of discomfort and tension, experienced mentally and physically. These could be out of nowhere and can involve actual or arbitrary triggers to be manifested in an anxiety attack. Every individual can have different types of symptoms. Some might have one initially, and others can experience a cluster of them.

Symptoms of Panic Attack

Some of the symptoms are characterized by the following:

  • Feelings of breathlessness
  • Heaviness of chest 
  • Fear of going mad
  • Shivering
  • Inability to think rationally
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Fear of death
  • Dizziness and faintness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Nausea and abdominal distress
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chills and heat sensations
  • Being detached from oneself
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Neck soreness, headache, uncontrollable screaming, or crying

Causes of Panic Attack

Panic attacks could be caused because of various psychological and physiological reasons:

  • Life-threatening or stressful situations such as failure in exams, financial crises, natural disasters, war-like situations, etc. 
  • Maladaptive thought patterns act as a trigger to some unexpected or negatively evaluated situations such as misinterpreting the intentions of your friends, self-judgment, jumping to conclusions, and looking only at the negative aspect of the situations/events.
  • Lack of resilience and grit as not able to wisely bounce back from the stressful situation. 
  • Lack of decision-making and problem-solving skills which involves a lack of evaluating pros and cons of the stressful situation, and feeling helpless. 
  • Perceived lack of control of self and the world which can also lead to hopelessness and helplessness
  • Genetic predisposition to anxiety and mood disorders such as history among the family members of the same
  • Role of various neurotransmitters like GamaAmmunoButryicAcid and brain parts like hippocampus and amygdala in manifesting a panic attack as they are the brain parts related to storing emotions, memory, and emotional events. 

As per surveys based on the last ten years, there have been 2.7% of the cases reported for anxiety attacks every year. The numbers have experienced a significant hike since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the reasons could be the level of uncertainty, grief, and loneliness that came along with the pandemic. 

Did you know there is something called as nocturnal panic attacks? It majorly involve waking from sleep in a state of panic. Sometimes, the haunting dreams or overthinking patterns can lead to nocturnal panic attack . 

What triggers Panic Attack?

Usual triggers for the panic attacks:

  • Failure at a task, relationship, or examination where the person feels helpless and on the edge. Such stressors can also lead to negative self-evaluation making the person question their strengths and can result in a negative spiral of thoughts.
  • High self-expectations as not fulfilling those expectations can again lead to negative self-evaluation. 
  • Grief or the death of loved ones can bring along feelings of doomed, loneliness, dwelled into memories. 
  • Trauma (physical/emotional/sexual) can be dreadful both mentally and physically. Post-trauma, the individual can experience negative memories of the event, get hypervigilant, respond in a maladaptive manner
  • Alcohol or substance misuse can trigger physiologically
  • Financial problems can lead to the depletion of tangible resources and end up the client being helpless
  • Unavoidable social expectations
  • Interpersonal difficulties with your loved ones or authority members can also exacerbate the issue as it affects you. 

Effective tips to cure a Panic Attack

Here’s how you can cure a panic attack :

  • Find a safe spot to sit and disengage from the activity you are doing. Find physical support or use floor to sit!
  • Practice the 3-3-3 rule of an anxiety attack:
  1. Identify 3 objects
  2. Identify 3 sounds
  3. Move 3 body parts
    The 3 3 3 rule is based on the principle of getting one distracted from the thoughts and feelings of panic attacks. Its one of the effective mindfulness based techniques. It consists of three following steps:
  4. The person is asked to identify three objects in their surroundings and observe them with minor details, such as their texture, color, shape, etc.
  5. In the second step, the person is asked to identify and describe three sounds in their surroundings, e.g. birds chirping, trees rustling, water burbling, the sound of a fan, children passing by, etc. 
    In the last step, the person identifies body parts, such as fingers, toes, shoulders, and eyes, in detail and describes them.
  • Practice distress tolerance, the TIPP skills!
  • Temperature: Regulate your body temperature. Eg. cold/hot pressing your cheeks, taking a cold/hot shower, washing your eyes with ice water
  • Intense exercise: Engage in spot running, spot jumping, or any such activity
  •  
  • Paced Breathing: Engage in paced breathing. Take deep breaths per 5-5-5-5-5—-4-4-4-4—-3-3-3—-2-2—--1 method.
  •  
  • Progressive relaxation: Engage in muscle relaxation by contracting and relaxing your muscles.
  • Rhythmic distraction techniques: Engage in distraction from your current thoughts such as counting the number of clouds around you, or counting the number of leaves on the tree.


Surround yourself with someone close and comforting. This will help you gain a sense of belongingness and adjust well. Talk to them. Keep judgments away. Its okay to cry it out.

Practice breathing exercises and yoga regularly. Engage in alom-vylom daily.

Take a stroll in the open air.

Dwell yourself in self-soothing exercises such as lighting a scented candle, holding onto something warm and heavy like a blanket, or your pet, getting a body massage, etc.


Additional strategies to cure panic attack:

Get exercise regularly: It can help you regulate your heart rate, sleep quality, and overall well-being


Get enough sleep. Sleep has its own restoration properties and it can have a calming effect on the nervous system of an individual.


Engaging in pranayam and yoga can help you reduce your stress levels in general.


Track your negative thoughts and mood regularly to keep yourself away from the spiral of the thoughts


Engage in meditation and mindfulness-based strategies which can help you stay in the present and not dwell on the worries of the past or future.

Seek online counseling from a professional

How will online counseling help you?

Online counselling will help you understand your triggers and psychological cues for having a panic attack. Understanding those could be one of the preventive strategies.

It will also help you in identifying your strengths and weaknesses

A therapist can guide you towards building resilience and grit to handle yourself better in the instance of a panic attack

Help in supervised guided discovery and behavior training to regulate our physiological response to stressors better. 

A collaborative and safe environment helps you to enhance your overall well-being while you can talk about your emotional problems freely.

Thought Restructuring and Distress tolerance skills equipped by counselors will help in better management of the triggers that usually end up in a panic attack.

Online counselors can provide you emotional support and strategies to create social support for self. 

FAQs:
What is the 3 3 3 rule for panic attacks?
The 3 3 3 rule is based on the principle of getting one distracted from the thoughts and feelings of panic attacks. It consists of three following steps:

  • The person is asked to identify three objects in their surroundings and observe them with minor details, such as their texture, color, shape, etc. 
  • In the second step, the person is asked to identify and describe three sounds in their surroundings, e.g. birds chirping, trees rustling, water burbling, the sound of a fan, children passing by, etc. 
  • In the last step, the person identifies body parts, such as fingers, toes, shoulders, and eyes, in detail and describes them.

How can I cure my panic attacks naturally?
My therapist helped me learn some mindfulness-based techniques and self-compassion skills, which has substantially decreased the frequency of my panic attacks. I am regularly indulging in breathing exercises and understanding my psychological triggers. In order to help those triggers several preventive strategies are being taught to me by my therapist. 

Are panic attacks normal?
Panic attacks are a common reaction to stressors, experienced by a diverse range of individuals. However, they might not be normal and require medical and psychological attention towards them.

How do I stop panic attacks forever?
Thought restructuring and mindful breathing can prevent panic attacks in the long run. Panic attacks can be a dreadful experience, however, they require to be handled gently. The idea is to work on the cues and preventive strategies at the basic.  

How long do panic attacks last?
This is very subjective. There’s no time duration of how long these panic attacks last. Every individual has his/her triggers. Symptoms and their duration can also vary.

Can I recover from panic attacks?
Yes, one can recover from anxiety attacks after employing psychologically healthy behavior. 
 

Reference

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787
  • Bachem, H. M., Zwaanik, B. O., & van den Bout, J. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy versus applied relaxation for panic disorder with agoraphobia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 200-208. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0005796794E0026F
  • Craske, M. G., & Barlow, D. H. (2010). Panic disorder and agoraphobia. In S. J. Holland & R. Hooley (Eds.), Descriptions and treatments of anxiety disorders (pp. 203-234). Elsevier Science & Technology.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, November). Panic disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/2022/panic-disorder-the-symptoms
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Panic attacks. https://namicobb.org/panic-disorder/
  • Owens, M., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Relaxation techniques for anxiety disorders. Adult Psychiatry, 20(3), 206-211. https://medicine.umich.edu/sites/default/files/content/downloads/Relaxation-Skills-for-Anxiety.pdf
  • **Otto, M. W., & Roth, D. M. (2020). Exposure therapy: A comprehensive guide to conditions, methods, and applications (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780125874212/handbook-of-exposure-therapies
  • Telch, C. S., & Grenberg, L. (2011). Deep breathing exercises for emotional and physical health. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 17(1), 33-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/
  • World Health Organization. (2019). World Health Organization mental health atlas: 2019. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789240036703
  • Zinsser, D. T., Saab, P. G., & Lynch, A. P. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for panic disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Depression and Anxiety, 35(2), 147-158. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312149055_Mindfulness-Based_Interventions_for_Youth_With_Anxiety_A_Systematic_Review_and_Meta-Analysis

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