Answered by Heather Morgan on Monday, January 18, 2010
According to psychologist Reid Wilson, Ph.D., author of Don't Panic, panic attacks are two-pronged; and when they strike, it helps to identify both the physical symptoms and thoughts of impending doom. Another telltale sign of a panic attack is that those thoughts are always about the body. For example, you might think, I'm going to have a heart attack, or I'm going to faint, whereas with a phobia you might think, Planes are dangerous, or Crowds make me anxious. If what you are experiencing is a panic attack, Wilson recommends taking these steps:
Fight the urge to run away; just sit still.
Accept the physical symptoms. if your heart feels like it's going to beat its way out of your chest, think of trying to make it beat even faster. The rationale? When you resist physical symptoms, they get worse.
Discredit your thoughts of impending doom. Think of them as "noise," advises Wilson, because they don't signal anything and aren't helpful or an accurate warning.
Take slow, gentle breaths down in your belly. High, shallow breathing through your upper chest can cause you to hyperventilate.
Wait, and have patience. In extreme cases where people experience repeated panic attacks, psychologists will often teach patients formal relaxation techniques to get their baseline anxiety level down. According to Wilson, meditation and relaxation tapes can instill a general calmness, and that helps a person not to peak so high when anxious moments come.