How to Survive a Panic Attack Alone
Whether you are prone to panic attacks or whether you are currently experiencing your first panic attack ever, you might not know what you can do to calm yourself down. The scariest thing about a panic attack is that it can strike anytime, anywhere, and you might not know how to get through it without completely breaking down. The panic can come over you slowly, or it can come over you gradually. No matter how they affect you, you want to know how to survive a panic attack, even if you are alone and have no one there to help you calm down.
What causes panic attacks?
The most common cause of a panic attack is when stress becomes too much and overwhelms a person. We all have a lot of background stress in our lives. Even if it is not present at the front of the mind, the stress is still there. Something might come along and be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. You become suddenly gripped by this fear, the response both emotional and physical.
This is why even something small can result in a panic attack. It triggers the residual, background stress that has not been dealt with and brings it all to the surface again. Of course, one big event can also cause a panic attack, even if there is no background stress to compound it.
How can I survive a panic attack alone?
Here are some tips that will help you survive a panic attack, even if you are alone:
1. Don’t avoid doing things because you are afraid of having a panic attack.
Some people let the possibility of a panic attack preclude them from the most necessary or most fun life events. If you avoid living your life because you are worried about having panic attacks, not only are you heaping more stress onto your shoulders (which could trigger an attack), you are letting the possibility of panic control you. You have to take back control of your life.
2. Realize the reality of the situation.
If you are experiencing panic attacks, you are likely having them when there is nothing real to fear. There is no immediate threat to your life and nothing that is going to harm you right now. Your body may still feel the gripping fear of panic, but if you take a second to breathe and to assess the situation, looking at the reality of it, instead of just letting the fear control you, you can start to realize that there is nothing actually to fear or, at the very least, that your situation cannot be helped by panicking. For example, you might be sitting in class, taking a test, when you start to panic. Taking a moment to remind yourself that there is no immediate harmful threat to self or safety can help you beat back the panic.
3. Stay in the situation.
If you are having panic attacks, you might start to associate specific places with those attacks. For example, you experience a panic attack in the library. If you run out of the library, calming down only when you get to your car, your mind will start to associate the library with that feeling of fear. You will be afraid to return to the library and when/if you do, you might experience another attack the next time you are there. If, however, you stay in the situation until you calm down, you can avoid building that fear response that triggers even more panic in the future.
4. Take a breath.
When you are panicking, you often forget to breathe. Many people start to hyperventilate, which can contribute to the feeling of fear (it creates many of the same symptoms of fear, including heart palpitations, lightheadedness and shortness of breath). When you start to feel yourself hyperventilating, you need to start taking long, deep breaths in, holding them for a second, and then pushing them back out. You are going to feel like you cannot breathe—this is just the panic. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing and slowing it down to a calming pace.
5. Keep calm and carry on.
You can often turn off the panic center of your brain by continuing to act as if your body is not experiencing this sudden jolt of fear. If you make the decision to continue to act normal, your fear will start to ebb. This is a great way to train your brain to realize the reality of the situation around you. Your body is panicking, it’s telling you to run and hide. If you continue to act normally, your body will see that there is no danger and that it is perfectly safe to return to a neutral state.
6. Force your brain to do something else.
Your brain is going to feel like it is consumed by the panic attack. Instead of allowing it to do this, start counting backwards from one hundred. Recite the alphabet backwards. Identify all the blue or round objects you see in your immediate field of vision. Whatever you choose, give yourself a menial task that requires your brain to focus on something other than the panic and anxiety. You know that there is no real emergency happening. Giving your brain a repetitive task is naturally calming and it tells your brain that the emergency it is imagining is just that: imaginary. If you start to feel the panic coming on, force your brain to do something, literally anything else.
These six tips will help you survive a panic attack alone or in the company of others. Panic attacks feel scary, but the more often you choose to stay in the moment and override the panic, the more your brain realizes it’s been over-reacting. In time, your mind will calm and stop sending the alarm signals that trigger the fight, flight or freeze response typical with panic and anxiety sufferers.