Coping with Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden surge of mounting physiological arousal that can occur out of the blue or in response to a phobic situation or the mere thought of it. Physical symptoms include heart palpitations, tightening of the chest, shortness of breath, choking sensations, dizziness, sweating, shaking, tingling of hands and feet. Psychological reactions include feelings of unreality, an intense desire to run away, fears of going crazy, dying or doing something uncontrollable.If you have ever experienced a panic attack or a situation that might have been a panic attack, it is a good idea to speak with a counselor or physician to determine the most appropriate course of treatment to prevent and/or cope with them.

You can learn to cope with panic attacks. The following are general guidelines for dealing with panic attacks as they occur.

  • Deflate the danger recognize that the attacks are not dangerous
  • Break the connection between the physical symptoms and the catastrophic thoughts
  • Don’t fight the panic; float with the “wave” of the attack; allow time to pass
  • Use coping statements such as: “This feeling isn’t comfortable, but I can accept it”; “I’ve survived this before and I’ll survive this time too”; “These are just thoughts, not reality”
  • Explore what types of circumstances preceded the attack

The following are more specific guidelines to counteract a panic attack at the first signs:

  • Retreat
  • Talk to another person
  • Move around or engage in physical activity
  • Stay in the present
  • Engage in a simple repetitive activity
  • Do something that requires focuses concentration
  • Express anger
  • Experience something immediately pleasurable
  • Visualize a comforting person or scene
  • Practice thought stopping
  • Practice abdominal breathing
  • Practice muscle relaxation
  • Repeat positive coping statements

For assistance with panic attacks or more information, contact the University Counseling Center at 448-4080 or visit us in 224 Elkins Hall.

(Above information about panic attacks are excerpts from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by E.J. Bourne)