Panic attacks are simply terrifying. The symptoms come on quickly and intensely, feeling like a heart attack. However, there are ways of coping with the attack, of training yourself to respond in calming ways.
The instinctual way of reacting to a panic attack will likely make the problem WORSE rather than BETTER.
The Five Steps of AWARE
The five steps of overcoming panic attacks are:
Acknowledge & Accept
Wait & Watch (maybe Work)
Actions (to make yourself more comfortable)
Let’s break this down step by step:
Acknowledge & Accept
This is the most important step to overcoming panic attacks!
Acknowledge the present reality of being afraid and starting to panic. Don’t try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t there.
Accept the fact that you are afraid at the moment. Don’t fight the feeling.
While a panic attack feels awful, it isn’t dangerous. Accepting the symptoms, not resisting, is a powerful step to overcoming panic attacks. The more you resist the panic, the worse it gets.
Wait & Watch (and maybe, Work)
Panic attacks typically rob a person of their ability to think, remember, and concentrate. This step buys a little time to regain those abilities before any action is taken.
Observe how panic works and how you respond to it. You can do this by filling out a panic diary, a questionnaire which helps you notice important aspects of a panic attack so you can respond more effectively over time. Filling out a diary can help you to calm down during the attack, to distance yourself from your emotions.
If you are in an active role i.e. driving a car, you also need to attend to the ‘work’ of conducting that activity.
By this step, you’ve already gone through the 2 most important steps to overcoming panic attacks.
Your job now is to see if you can make yourself more comfortable, while you wait for the attack to end.
This is a helpful technique to do to calm yourself down. It’s also known as diaphragmatic breathing. This can be a powerful tool in overcoming panic attacks!
How to Talk to Yourself
Talk to yourself (silently) about what is happening and what you need to do.
Get Involved in the Present
People don’t panic in the present- they panic when they imagine something bad happening to them in the future of in the past.
Get back to the activity you were engaged in prior to the attack and become involved with the people and objects around you. Bring your focus and energy back to the present environment- work with what is around you.
Work With Your Body
Identify and relax the parts of your body that get most tense during a panic attack. First tense, then relax, the muscles of the jaw, neck, shoulders, back and legs. Do not stand rigid, muscles tensed, and holding your breath. That makes you feel worse!
This step is here because you may start feeling better, than get another wave of panic. Just take it from the top again. You may go through several cycles. Just repeat the AWARE steps again.
This is to remind you that your panic attack will end. All panic attacks end regardless of how you respond. It’s not your job to make the attack end. It’s your job to make yourself comfortable as possible while waiting for the attack to end.