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What Do I Do When I Have a Panic Attack?

Having a panic attack while not having an underlying panic disorder isn’t uncommon. Suppose you haven’t prepared as well as you should’ve for a work presentation or test at school. In that case, you may panic and have a quick heartbeat, shortness of breath, or trouble thinking – but these all eventually resolve themselves with little or no intervention from you. When these reactions happen all the time, almost every day, over trivial matters, and begin affecting your quality of life, you may be experiencing more serious anxiety attacks.

Steps That Can Help to Control Panic Attacks

In the heat of the moment, it may not be possible to deal with an anxiety or panic attack with medicine or other therapy. Sometimes, you just must go it alone. Panic attacks are normal responses in certain situations that resolve themselves, but anxiety attacks are more serious and require care. Thankfully, you can try a few things when you experience this kind of situation.

  • Don’t forget the importance of staying active. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer, so follow a set routine daily if possible. Staying active can improve moods and overall health, plus give you energy which may help avoid panic attacks before they begin.
  • Alcohol and recreational drugs can exacerbate existing panic disorders. They can trigger anxiety and make it worse; if you’ve developed a dependence on either, see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Stay away from nicotine use and caffeinated beverages.
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques are a great way to manage panic, anxiety, and conditions that could lead to such attacks. Try meditation and yoga to ease anxiety.
  • Most adults need seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours, so if you haven’t made sleep a priority – why not? Sleep is especially critical if you’re pre-disposed to stress and anxiety because sleep is the best way to settle and rejuvenate a restless body and mind.
  • Adopt healthy eating habits and talk to a nutritionist to create daily meal plans if needed. Add vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish to your diet, staying away from sugar, caffeine, and processed foods.
  • Educate yourself about what’s happening, and don’t be afraid to talk with your healthcare provider for more information. By knowing as much about your disorder as possible, you can make informed treatment decisions. Also, it’s an excellent idea to marshal support from family and friends if needed.
  • If anxiety and panic lead to more serious and frequent anxiety attacks and you’re undergoing professional care, stick to any treatment plan recommended by your healthcare provider. There’ll be days when things are going well, and you think you can skip a counseling session or don’t need to take prescribed medicine, but that’s a recipe for disaster. 
  • Do you know what’s triggering anxiety and panic? Learning about situations or actions which lead to stress or boost your anxiety levels can help you manage their consequences. If your healthcare provider has given you strategies to deal with these situations, use them often.
  • It may be good to start journaling with pen and paper, on your computer, or even online. Documenting your personal life, warts and all, can give you and your mental health provider insight into causes and effects and deal with them accordingly.

Finally, don’t self-isolate. Humans need the company of other humans to survive and thrive, and a social safety net of people who can help – family, friends, co-workers, or other support groups – should never be taken for granted. This means you need to socialize and possibly step out of your comfort zone.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Successfully diagnosing a panic or anxiety attack requires examination by a medical professional or mental health specialist with experience in mental illnesses. You can expect to undergo a physical examination, and psychiatric assessment often conducted separately. A medical exam may include certain tests and procedures to see if there’s an underlying cause for your symptoms and, if so, figure out the best treatment option. A psychiatric exam has the same goal but looks at your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors as potential triggers and how your personal and family history of mental illness may influence the current situation.

Treatment will likely include some combination of psychotherapy and medicine, including ketamine to treat anxiety or other symptoms.