One in ten of us will experience a panic attack at some point in our lives.  Rapid breathing, sweating, chest pains, flushes, disorientation and numbness are just some of the symptoms of a panic attack that can feel terrifying at the time. They can often last up to 20 minutes and the onset can be abrupt with no obvious trigger.  They are, though, symptomatic of anxiety disorder, a condition which is characterised by irrational and/or overwhelming feelings of tension and uncertainty.

There are ways to overcome these though – or at least, help you to cope better.  The first stage is to recognise the cause.  Panic attacks tend to be the result of the body going into ‘fight or flight’ mode (a useful response to danger as it prepares the body for action) in which it is flooded with adrenaline which increases blood pressure and heart rate.  So, understanding and identifying the nature of the problem can help you start to alleviate the symptoms.  To step back and analyse why an attack has happened can help to start make the problem smaller in your head.

Most people get some sort of warning that an attack may be imminent.  It is at this stage that controlled breathing is critical – belly breathing.  In a state of high anxiety we take rapid short breaths , often called hyperventilating.  This leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood which causes many of the symptoms of a panic attack.  Instead, people who suffer from panic attacks should practice breathing deeply and slowly from the stomach – exhaling for longer than they inhale ( count 5 in, 7 out) and as they breathe in the chest should stay still while the stomach is pushed out.  It takes some practice but can be learned!

It is also important to control your thoughts immediately.  You will not die.  The symptoms might be unpleasant but they will not kill you and they will be temporary.  Repeat firmly to yourself ‘I can breathe my way through this’.

Stress can cause panic attacks and the fear of having another attack can become greater than the anxiety itself so it is very important to learn to relax.  Become aware of tension in your body and learn how to reduce it.  Some people often try to avoid situation which they believe provoked an attack in the first place.  It is important to stop doing this as the issue can be made bigger in your mind by doing so.  Increase confidence by facing the situations and learning to breathe and relax, building up confidence one day at a time.

Lifestyle adjustments can really help alleviate symptoms too.  Caffeine and sugar create unstable blood sugar which can provoke attacks.  Exercise to use up adrenaline and release mood-enhancing endorphins and increase self esteem, which is at the core of many anxiety disorders, is a powerful strategy to combat effects.

Above all, try to keep your mood positive.  Keep a diary to encourage positive thinking with items each day which encourage you and situations where you felt in control.  The more positive energy you generate the less likely you are to have an attack.  Sessions of hypnotherapy can support all this.