Self-help for panic attacks

Irina Sergeevna Krailina, a psychotherapist with more than 14 years of experience, tells about effective methods of self-help for panic attacks, how they work, and the role of psychotherapy .     

A person who has experienced a panic attack for the first time thinks that something extraordinary, terrible, catastrophic has happened to him. 

Many of my patients, when they master the methods of controlling emotions, thoughts and the body, exclaim: “Oh, if only when this happened for the first time, someone told me that this is a disorder well known to doctors and psychologists, that it can be treated, and most importantly – they don’t die of him ! ”       

After all, then, at the very beginning, there was one most terrible thought that covered everything in the world like a black cloud : “Nobody knows what happened to me. I will die. ”     

Therefore, a person tries to get first aid by calling an ambulance, or sent to a therapist or cardiologist. 

Many people try to fight this disorder on their own , looking for recommendations and advice on how to get rid of panic attacks. Usually on the internet. There is a lot of information there, often it is scattered and contradictory.      

Therefore, I will try to systematize the information on the recommendations and methods of self-help and talk about the benefits of psychotherapy.     

For those wishing to understand the topic in more depth, the article contains the “More” blocks: you need to click / click on them for additional information to appear. If your goal is to only learn about self-help methods, just read the regular font.    

More about the mechanism of development and symptoms of panic attacks  

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To clearly explain how different self-help methods work, consider a person as an integral system and highlight 4 components:  

  • the human body;
  • his emotions;
  • thoughts;
  • the external environment with which he interacts.  

These components interact with each other, affect each other. 

An example of the interaction of body, emotions, thoughts and environment 

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Self-help for panic attacks: body

Most of all there are recommendations-tips for self-help in relation to the body:  

  • intensive exercise in the morning and (or) physical activity at the first signs of anxiety;  
  • long walks in the fresh air; 
  • deep calm breathing, or “diaphragmatic breathing”, or “belly breathing”, other types of breathing exercises;
  • avoiding alcohol and stimulants;  
  • cold and hot shower;
  • getting enough sleep;
  • plentiful warm drink;
  • medicines, herbal medicine, homeopathy;
  • acupuncture.

Separately, it should be said about the methods of targeted activation of the parasympathetic division of the ANS and reducing the heart rate by evoking specific reflexes:  

  • according to Ashner – close the eyes and press intensively on the eyeballs with the pads of the thumbs for 15–20 seconds;     
  • reflex “diving dog” – hold your breath and immerse your face in a basin of ice water;    
  • Valsalva reflex – to strain at the height of a deep breath;  
  • cause a gag reflex (urge to vomit, but not vomiting itself) – press on the root of the tongue.     

Attention! These actions are contraindicated in the following conditions:

  • severe chest pain ; 
  • shortness of breath and cough with foamy sputum;  
  • severe weakness, decreased blood pressure;
  • convulsions, impaired sensitivity and movement in the limbs.  
  • loss of consciousness.

These methods work “through the body” – they affect the autonomic nervous system through one of three mechanisms:   

  1. Contribute to discharge in her sympathetic department.  
  2. The parasympathetic division is activated.
  3. They harmonize and stabilize their activities. 

How Some Self-Help Techniques Affect ANS 

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Self-help for panic attacks: the environment

With regard to how loved ones behave in such a situation, the following must be said: you should not completely free the person suffering from panic disorder from household chores, create “hothouse” conditions for him, protecting him from any emotional experiences. This will only increase the anxious mood of the person. And with prolonged suffering, it can even become conditionally attractive to the patient and partially hinder recovery.       

In short, care should be moderate and not intrusive.  

Self-help for panic attacks: thoughts and emotions 

Suggestions for thoughts and emotions: 

  • switch thoughts with distractions; 
  • reconsider your attitude towards health and death;  
  • determine with what thought it all started, and prove to yourself the absurdity of this thought;  
  • convince yourself that you can live with panic disorder; 
  • meditate;
  • keep a diary;
  • read a prayer.

You may notice that some self-help methods affect the body, emotions, and thoughts. For example, meditation. Performing complex breathing techniques not only stimulates the parasympathetic division of the ANS, but also changes the gas composition of the blood and switches attention.      

Changes in one area entail changes in another. For example, thoughts-memories of a pleasant event evoke pleasant emotions.   

Why psychotherapy is needed for panic attacks

If everything is more or less clear with the body and specific recommendations are given, then with emotions and thoughts it is not so simple. On the one hand, the recommendations are more abstract, and on the other hand, they can even cause rejection:         

  1. How can you suddenly take and change your thinking? 
  2. How to change emotions if a wave of fear is covering?
  3. And how to influence the environment, except how to seek help?  

This is where psychotherapy helps.  

Ericksonian hypnosis techniques, for example, can help relieve anxiety and fear. Cognitive behavioral therapy ( CBT) also relieves panic attacks through changes in thought processes or behavioral patterns . Short-term strategic psychotherapy makes changes in the key points of the relationship system and allows you to achieve results in a short time. The best result is often obtained by a combination of several methods, selected individually.        

The psychotherapist is a mediator who helps to “build bridges” between his own body, emotions, thoughts; build relationships with others.  

Just as an adult helps a child to deduce the first letters, a psychotherapist helps a client: 

  • learn to look at your feelings differently; 
  • gradually, step by step, master all new ways of controlling the body; 
  • manage thoughts and emotions, reduce the level of anxiety; 
  • develop new, healthy relationships with others; 
  • and most importantly – to enjoy it all!

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