Mental Health Screening – Tips for Dealing with a Panic Attack
The best way that you can overcome a panic attack is to teach yourself how you can respond to it in an accepting, calming way. Overcoming a panic attack requires that you have a response that is very different than what you typically do. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep getting the same results.
If you want relief from your anxiety and what you’re currently doing doesn’t work, it’s time to find something else to do. If you believe you may have an anxiety disorder, speak with your physician about a mental health screening.
Following, you will find five steps that will help guide your response during a panic attack. Regularly using this approach will get you far in your path to overcoming panic attacks completely.
5 Steps of AWARE: Mental Health Screening
- A- Acknowledge/Accept
- W- Wait/Watch (Maybe Work)
- A- Actions
- R- Repeat
- E- End
Following is a closer look at each one of these steps.
The entire process starts here- this is the most critical step in the process of overcoming panic attacks.
This is where you must acknowledge your present reality- you are afraid and beginning to panic. Never try to ignore it. You’re not trying to distract yourself or tell yourself to stop thinking about it. You are admitting that you are afraid- but not in danger. If you feel like you’re in danger, this is just a symptom of panic, it’s not a useful/important thought.
At this point, you will accept that you are afraid. You should not fight it or ask God to take it away. You shouldn’t blame yourself or anyone else. Just learn to accept it, as best as you can. You must work with your symptoms of panic and anxiety instead of against it if you ever expect to overcome it.
How to Accept a Panic Attack
While it feels awful and fills you with dread, a panic attack isn’t dangerous- so it’s acceptable even if not desirable. It’s not going to kill you or make you crazy. If someone is pointing a gun at you, that is not acceptable because it’s a threat on your life. On the other hand, if you are getting a ticket even though you may not deserve it, it’s something you can live with and you must work to keep yourself in check so that you don’t make things worse.
Learning to accept your symptoms instead of resisting them is an extremely powerful step to overcoming your panic attacks.
What Can a Panic Attack Do?
A panic attack makes you feel afraid- that’s all. If you are in the middle of a panic attack, that’s the worst that’s going to happen. You will just need to ride it out because the more you resist an attack, the worse it’s going to get. The more you learn to accept, the more progress you will make toward your goal of overcoming your panic attacks.
Wait, Watch, & (Maybe) Work
At this point, you don’t have to do anything at all- just be. This is very similar to the philosophy of “count to 10 before getting mad” about something. One thing that a panic attack does is keep you from being able to think, concentrate, and remember. This step gives you the time that you need to regain those abilities before taking action.
When you react before you are able to think about it, you end up struggling or fleeing. You end up doing things that make the situation worse. This is what people are referring to when they say, “The harder I try, the worse things get.” Jumping to a reaction before you think through it is a huge obstacle to overcoming a panic attack.
So, though you may have an urge for “flight” you should postpone that decision for a bit. Never tell yourself you “can’t” go anywhere, leave that open so you don’t feel trapped, just postpone the decision about whether you should leave or not. Stay there- don’t run away to get some relief, allow it to come to you.
You can use this time to pay attention to how the panic works and what your response to it is. The best way to do this is to keep a panic diary. This is a questionnaire that will help you notice the important aspects of a panic attack so that you are able to more effectively respond to them over time.
Sometimes, simply filling out the diary will help calm you. This is not because you’re distracted from the subject of the panic, because that’s what the questions are about. It puts some space between you and your emotions. It puts you in the role of observer instead of victim.
The best way to use a panic diary is to fill it out during the panic attack instead of waiting until it’s over. If you are somewhere that you can’t write, use a digital recorder and have your support person read the questions out loud and record your answers.
If you are in a passive role during your panic attack, all you need to do is wait and watch. On the other hand, if you are in an active role, you will also need to “work”- do whatever it takes to keep yourself engaged in the task at hand.
Actions (to Increase Comfort)
You have been through the first 2- and most important- aspects to learning to overcome panic attacks. Your job during a panic attack is not to bring it to an end- that is going to happen no matter what. Following are a few steps that some have found effective for getting through a panic attack:
- Belly Breathing: no matter what else you do, always do belly breathing. This is a very effective technique for overcoming panic attacks.
- Talk to yourself: (silently, of course) about what is going on and what you should be doing.
- Involve yourself in the present: when you’re in the present, you’re not going to panic- you only panic when there is something bad in your future or your past. So, get yourself involved in the activity you were involved in before the attack. By bringing your focus/energy back to the present, it will help you learn to overcome your panic attacks.
- Pay attention to your body: identify & relax the areas of your body that typically tense up during an attack. Don’t let yourself stand rigid, holding your breath, and tensing your muscles. This will make you feel that much worse. If you think you can’t move a muscle, start with one finger.
The reason for this step is that you may feel the panic begin to subside and then another wave will come on. While your first reaction might be “Great, that didn’t work at all!” this step reminds you that it’s OK- just start over. You may need to repeat several times before you can get it under control.
Finally, you will reach a point where the panic attack will end- they always do, no matter what your response is. The only thing you need to do is take these steps to make yourself more comfortable during the process.
If you are having panic attacks on a regular basis, you may want to speak with your physician about doing a mental health screening to see if you have an underlying condition that is causing your panic attacks to spiral out of control.