What is causing you to panic

First aid for panic attacks

They often come out of nowhere - and disappear a short time later on their own. For those affected, however, they are almost unbearable. 1 in 5 Germans experience a panic attack once in their life. Almost 4% develop panic disorder. The good news: Panic attacks are harmless in themselves.

What does a panic attack feel like?

The heart pounds up to the neck, the sweat runs and the thoughts race: For those affected, a panic attack feels extreme. They are afraid of breaking down, going crazy, or even dying. The fear intensifies physical and psychological concomitant symptoms how

  • Racing or palpitations,
  • Sweat,
  • Tremble,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Nausea,
  • Dizziness as well
  • Feelings of unreality and strangeness.

After about 10 minutes, the panic attack reaches its peak and then slowly subsides.

False alarm: this happens in the body

Fear is a very human feeling and an important survival instinct. For example, when our ancestors encountered a wild animal, a natural fight-or-flight response developed: pulse and breathing rate shot up, the pupils dilated, while the body released adrenaline and strength to attack (or run away) collected. If you experience a panic attack today, your nervous system thinks your life is in danger and triggers the same reaction. Just that the triggers aren't life threatening.

SOS tips for panic attacks

1. Control breathing

If the uneasy feeling of a panic attack creeps up on you, or if you are already in the middle of it, focus on your breathing:

  • Inhale through your nose, counting to 4.
  • Hold your breath and count to 7.
  • Then exhale deeply through your mouth and count to 8.

Repeat the whole thing. Exhaling longer calms your nervous system and gives you back the feeling of control.

2. Say "stop"

Know that you are having a panic attack. Your body is reacting to stress or anxiety right now and you know that this condition will soon pass. Nothing can happen to you. In the meantime, however, you can influence your thinking. The thought-stopping method comes from cognitive behavioral therapy. When panicked thoughts arise, say “stop” out loud or imagine a red stop sign. With a little practice you can interrupt the thought carousel.

3. Do sports

Panic attacks are an extreme stress reaction in which you build up a lot of energy. You can get rid of the excess energy through vigorous movements: Try running fast, jumping jacks, or squats. Regular exercise has been shown to help cope with anxiety and depression in the long term. You will learn that palpitations and sweating are normal reactions in your body. In our article on exercise as a stress relief valve, you will find out in detail how physical activity works in stressful situations.

4. Clench your fists

In the subway, in the restaurant or in the waiting room, it is impossible to hop or squat. Here you can resort to a slimmed-down variant of progressive muscle relaxation. Clench your fists and slowly count from 1 to 5. Let go and enjoy the relaxation. To increase the effect, you can tense and release all ten toes at the same time. Repeat this until you feel better.

5. Refresh yourself

Is there a sink nearby? Then turn the tap on and splash water on your face or run it down your forearms. Warm water slows the heartbeat. Plus, it distracts you from the things that scare you.

6. Stay where you are

This method is not easy - it is about resisting the escape reflex. Focus on grounding yourself. Keep both feet firmly on the ground. Feel the chair you are sitting in. Alternatively, you can brace yourself against a wall with your arms. Know that you can go anytime. Or maybe you can hold out the situation until you are back in your right mind.

7. Redirecting thoughts

If you have a panic attack, anything that makes you think different will help. Talk to a friend or friend, talk about irrelevant things. If there is no one to talk to: Look carefully at a picture on the wall or count all the things in the area that are blue. The main thing is that you direct your focus to the outside world - away from the maddening thoughts.

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You should avoid that

First aid measures can help with acute panic attacks. A healthy lifestyle is the best basis for getting it under control in the long term. You should avoid the following things if you are prone to anxiety:

  • caffeine upset and can cause fear in some people. Fortunately, there are plenty of coffee alternatives that are tasty and healthy.
  • nicotine has a stimulating effect on the body - and not relaxing, as many assume. Smoking is not a good idea if you are already tense.
  • alcohol is not a good sedative. On the contrary: it can actually make anxiety worse. Try to drink less or take a break from alcohol.
  • Hypoglycaemia can cause dizziness and lightheadedness. Eat regularly (especially healthy proteins and filling whole grains) to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
  • lack of sleep can promote the development of anxiety disorders. Try to keep regular sleep times and improve the quality of your sleep. Regular meditation exercises can help if you have trouble falling asleep.

Where do panic attacks come from?

The causes of panic attacks are not yet fully understood. However, certain connections can be assumed. The following factors can play a role in the development of panic disorder:

  • Genetic predisposition: familial anxiety disorders and neurological factors (how the brain works)
  • Heavy stress: through relationship problems, job loss or financial worries
  • Personality structure: fearful personalities who are sensitive to negative emotions

What is panic disorder?

Panic attacks usually go away in 30 minutes. Some of those affected fear the next attack afterwards - and therefore avoid certain everyday situations (crowds, elevators, hospitals, etc.). This fear of fear is typical of panic disorder. The avoidant behavior maintains the disturbance.

Get rid of panic attacks in the long run

Palpitations and anxiety can be symptoms of an illness - and you can get well again. If you have repeated panic attacks, seek medical advice. This is especially true if the panic doesn't subside on its own and you can't get it under control through self-help measures.

Your doctor will first clarify possible physical causes with you. For example, thyroid problems can trigger symptoms of a panic attack. If physical illnesses are excluded, psychotherapy can help - if necessary in combination with anti-anxiety medication. Panic disorders can be treated well. In therapy, you learn step by step to first allow fears and then to overcome them.