So, what is a panic attack?
I feel like this term is thrown around a lot without a lot of context. It’s become a phrase that people use like “You almost gave me a heart attack,” or “You scared the s#*t out of me.” Generally, those things didn’t actually happen, they’re just an expression.
However, much like a heart attack, a panic attack is a very real concern for some.
Panic attacks come from one of the five basic emotional responses that we feel as humans. The five are fear (responsible for panic attacks; more on that later), happiness, anger, sadness, and shame. Sound familiar? Maybe a certain Pixar film?
Fear is the origin of anxiety, which is not a bad thing. When we feel anxious, it’s because we are in a situation in which we are afraid of something. It goes back to our ancestors who used anxiety as a tool for survival. Feeling anxiety meant that there was a general feeling of unease forcing your body to be on alert for enemies or predators. That instinct, the threatened feeling, has continued on as we have evolved for the same reason. It’s why we cross the street is we are alone and see a group walking toward us and why we care what the delivery guys thinks when he arrives at your house with enough Chinese food for four but it’s really all for you.
The problem with anxiety is when it gets out of control and that heightened sense of awareness is felt in most situations. An intense and debilitating episode of this feeling is a panic attack.
Your entire body becomes so aware and fearful that you lose control over the most basic instincts. Your breathing becomes shallow, your vision becomes impaired, and you find yourself begging for something to save you from this feeling.
While having a counselor right there when you are having a panic attack is the most ideal situation, life doesn’t always work like that. A counselor can however help you work through these anxieties in session and provide tools for helping with attacks in the future.
Personally, my favorite tool, mostly because it’s easy to remember, is anchoring yourself in your environment when you start to get overwhelmed. This can be used in any situation where you are feeling anxious of course. You don’t have to be in the middle of a panic attack! To do this exercise, just remember your five senses and count them back.
Find five things you can see and identify them
Feel four things with your hands or feet and concentrate on them
Listen for three things you can hear
Sniff for two things you can smell
Stop and think about what you taste in your mouth
These methods are not fail proof. Yes, it is an exercise to help during a panic attack, but it is not a cure for them. Same goes for run of the mill anxiety. If you are feeling anxiety without a definitive sources or if you feel your anxiety levels are more than what they should be, seek help from a counselor. You are not alone in feeling this way and a counselor can help immensely with navigating through these feelings.