The Expert’s Guide To Dealing With Panic Attacks

The Expert’s Guide To Dealing With Panic Attacks

Anyone who’s experienced a panic attack can tell you how terrifying and debilitating they can be. Although usually triggered by specific situations or circumstances, they can also happen at random, and with very little warning. With one in ten British adults experiencing a panic attack at some point in their lives, we asked the experts how best to manage them…

THE PSYCHOLOGIST’S PERSPECTIVE: Lorna Devine, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist & Life Coach

With more than 10 years’ experience in clinical practice, Lorna regularly works with high achievers and professionals to overcome anxiety and panic attacks.

“A panic attack is when your body experiences a rush of intense emotional and physical symptoms which can come on very quickly, usually reaching a peak within ten minutes from symptom onset. During an attack, physical symptoms can build up quickly – think an accelerated heart rate; nausea; breathing difficulties; feeling disconnected from your body or surroundings; feeling very hot or cold; sweating, trembling and shaking. Other common symptoms include a fear of dying, having a heart attack or losing control. And while you might feel like you are going to faint, remember this is very unlikely. Panic attacks tend to increase blood pressure, whereas fainting is often the result of low blood pressure.”

“Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. Many individuals describe their initial panic attack as coming out of the blue and not necessarily associated with a specific situation. However, over time, it’s common for panic attacks to be triggered by certain places or activities. For some, panic attacks are triggered by external stimuli such as a stressful work environment, crowded places or loud noises, whereas for others, they are triggered by internal stimuli – the most common is misinterpreting benign bodily sensations such as palpitations as a sign of an impending physical catastrophe, such as a heart attack.”

“Hyperventilation is a symptom of a panic attack, which can result in increased fear, but deep breathing will reduce panic symptoms. Start by gaining control over your breathing by changing your breathing style. Try to sit, placing one hand on your tummy, breathing in through your nose for four seconds, holding at the top for two seconds, and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for six seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer.”

“A coping strategy used to keep an individual in the present, grounding techniques will help you in the midst of an attack, reminding you are safe and in control of your emotions. This can be particularly helpful if you experience dissociation (feeling disconnected from your body and surroundings) during an attack. Try the 54321 technique: name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.”
“If your panic attacks are becoming more regular, lasting longer and you feel they are impacting on your day-to-day life, consider seeking help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most consistently supported psychological therapy for panic attacks and panic disorder. Therapy can help reduce symptoms of panic attacks and reduce the likelihood of relapse.”


THE HOLISTIC PERSPECTIVE: Nahid de Belgeonne, Founder of The Human Method & Mindfulness Expert

One of London’s most renowned yoga and mindfulness experts, Nahid specialises in somatic movement and restorative yoga to help high-fliers avoid anxiety and burn-out. Prior to discovering mindfulness, she suffered from crippling claustrophobia.  

“When I’m working with clients suffering from panic attacks, I try to understand what’s going on under the surface. Stimulants like coffee, alcohol and drugs can all be triggers, as can big life changes such as pregnancy, menopause, grief or divorce.”

“Panic attacks can be triggered by hormonal changes. Many of my clients suffer from chronic stress, which leads to an over-production of the two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. When you are in a stressed state, your body suppresses production of the happy hormones, dopamine and serotonin. When these hormones are low, you will be less able to cope with the effects of stress and anxiety.”

“This is the internal state of your body, for example, thirst and hunger. Once you can tune into what is happening through your bodily sensations, you can start to rationalise yourself out of a panic attack.”

“Active rest is very different from sleep and is vital for optimal mental and physical health. Active rest is when you consciously rest your brain from activity – it can include meditation, walking in the park or cooking. If you switch off in the evenings with wine and Netflix, this will do your mental health no favours. You need to bring your nervous system back into balance to avoid anxiety.”


THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE: Sushma Sagar, Reiki Master Healer & Founder of The Calmery

For years, Sushma, a former global fashion brand director, used reiki as an antidote to workplace stress. In 2002, she launched The Calmery, Harley Street’s first energy healing destination, to demystify spiritual healing and promote it as an everyday wellbeing tool.

“In my practice, I often work with clients who experience panic attacks. Many of them say their main trigger is a perceived lack of control in a situation. When something is out of their hands and they are at the mercy of growing external forces, pressure will build rapidly. If not managed, the pressure becomes a runaway train of scary, physiological responses. At The Calmery, we work with energy to heal the source of panic – reiki is a powerful tool.”

“If you are in the midst of a panic attack, try putting your hand on your thymus – the spot between your chest and neck. Breathe slowly and deeply, imagining the breath is going into your palm – your palm will start to get hot and you will slowly begin to feel calmer and more in control. If you are in a place where you can lie down, use gravity to bring you back to the present. Lying on the floor, try to imagine your anxiety is a thick sludge which is being pulled out of you, draining into the earth where it will be composted.”

“If you feel like things are going wrong, try to physically write down what is going right. Even simple things like ‘I am alive’, ‘I am clothed’, ‘I have a home’, ‘I can handle this’ can be hugely comforting and effective in times of high stress and anxiety.”


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