What is panic?
These are some quotes from my clients who have struggled with panic. You’re not alone and around 30% of people will have at least one full-blown panic attack. Panic attacks are intense moments of physical and mental overload, to the point where you may feel like you’ll stop breathing, have a heart attack, or pass out. They usually last a few seconds to a few minutes but it’s the fear of them coming again that’s the real problem. Many people avoid work, interactions with family and friends, and life in general because the panic feels so bad.
Here are some of the symptoms of panic. Just note that these symptoms have to feel pretty intense when a panic attack comes on:
- Pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings as if you’re disconnected from your body or floating out of your body
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feets
- Chills or heat sensations
There is a way out . . .
One of the problems that most people tell me about panic is that they’ve tried to do something but nothing helps. Most people struggle to get over their panic because they have tried to tackle too much at once. They decide to do something they’ve been avoiding. After leaving the house, they start to worry, struggle through it for an hour or two, get overwhelmed, and head home feeling defeated.
You need to start small and build your way up. Tackling an enormous fear from the get go is not a good idea. Do something challenging but more manageable. Start small at first and then do it again until you build your confidence. Challenge yourself at the same level two, three, or even a dozen times. Make sure you feel confident doing simpler tasks before moving on to more difficult ones. Building an appropriate plan is one of the things that I can help you with.
One of the other challenges is not just the panic attack but the anticipation that builds up around it. Some people only have one or two panic attacks every few months but they structure their lives around avoiding them and worry nonstop when a challenging situation comes up. In my experience, this anticipation of panic is even more of a problem than the panic attacks. I help people to learn how to recognize their anticipation using a technique called mindfulness, which I describe below.
Mindfulness for Panic
Mindfulness therapy is an approach that is based on Buddhist philosophy but is non-spiritual in practice. Mindfulness is a way of approaching life that is so desperately needed into American society, which is so focused on over-stimulation, excessive consumption, and constant business. Mindfulness can help you to slow down and live in the present moment but doing so with a sense of awareness about your thoughts and feelings in a way that is self-compassionate and accepting.
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation but mindfulness is not a single technique’ it is an approach to life. Meditation, yoga, and other practices can cultivate a sense of mindfulness, but mindfulness is how you live life and the way you experience reality. I teach my clients meditation but also teach mindfulness in other ways, such as how to approach your morning routine more thoughtfully, interact with children in a more engaged way.
As you learn to be more mindful, you can apply that it to the thoughts that underlie panic, e.g., anticipation about a situation, self-doubt, fears, uncomfortable sensations, and other problems. Putting mindfulness to work isn’t a single step; it is a skill that requires patience, practice, and dedication. If you’re willing to do that, it can change your life. If you want help with learning mindfulness or other strategies for dealing with panic then give me a call and we can get that process started.