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Coping strategies for anxiety and panic attacks

Most people will feel anxious in certain situations. Especially when coping with stressful events or changes that could have a big impact on their life.

Let’s face it, living through a global pandemic has been stressful and anxious for all of us.

Anxiety is a natural human response. But in some cases, people can experience severe anxiety or panic attacks.

We’ll look at what might be the triggers for these panic attacks and explore some strategies that could help you cope with them.

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are an exaggerated version of your body's normal response to danger, stress or excitement.

A panic attack can happen quickly, with physical symptoms that can include:

  • a pounding or racing heartbeat
  • feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
  • feeling very hot or very cold
  • sweating, trembling or shaking
  • feeling sick
  • pain in your chest or abdomen
  • struggling to breathe or feeling like you're choking
  • feeling like your legs are shaky
  • feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings

When can panic attacks happen?

You could experience a panic attack at any time. It will differ from person to person.

Someone may experience one and then never have another. While some people may experience them regularly.

In some instances, a place, situation or activity might trigger a panic attack.

They can come on very quickly and most panic attacks will last between 5 to 20 minutes.

If you're having lots of panic attacks at unpredictable times and with no specific trigger or cause, you might be given a diagnosis of panic disorder.

What can cause a panic attack?

Everyone experiences anxiety I different ways. This makes it hard to know exactly what causes anxiety and triggers panic attacks.

It could be because of:

  • past or childhood experiences, including abuse, neglect, losing a loved one or being bullied
  • problems in your life, including exhaustion, stress at work, money problems or bereavement
  • physical or mental health problems
  • the side effects of taking certain medications

Living with anxiety and panic attacks can be difficult and frightening, but there are steps you can take that might help.

How can I manage and cope with panic attacks?

Here are some simple coping strategies for managing your next panic attack.

Stop and breathe

Concentrate on your breathing and make a conscious effort to slow it down while counting each breath.

If possible, place your hands on your stomach and fill your belly with breath.

Loosen up your body

Relax your body one section at a time.

Tighten and loosen the muscles of your shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feet.

Then move on to your back, neck and head, including your facial muscles and jaw.

Try our simple relaxation exercises to help you cope with stress.

Focus on your senses

Focusing on a particular taste or smell can help, like mint-flavoured sweets or aromatherapy oils and scented candles.

Touch something soft or comforting. Sometimes, stamping hard on the ground can help. This will also help to control your breathing.

You could concentrate on looking at an image or photograph that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable. Or use your mind’s eye to picture a place that has happy memories.

The 5-4-3-2-1 method

The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a type of grounding technique. Using the same techniques as in mindfulness sessions, it helps direct the person’s focus away from sources of stress.

During a panic attack, you should:

  • look at 5 separate objects and think about each one
  • listen for 4 distinct sounds and think about where they came from
  • touch 3 objects, considering their texture, temperature and use
  • identify 2 different smells
  • name 1 thing you can taste

What can I do to avoid further panic attacks?

Your panic attacks may be triggered by the same things, such as enclosed spaces, crowds, money worries or work.

By learning to manage or avoid these triggers, you could reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.

Talking to someone you trust about what's making you anxious can also help.

If you can’t speak to someone close to you, the Samaritans and Anxiety UK have helplines that you can call to talk to someone.

If you or the people you employ are experiencing panic attacks, contact the team at Fusion to find out how our occupational health services can offer support and guidance.

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Categories: Choices for WellbeingHealth & WellbeingMental HealthOccupational Health

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