Panic Attacks Defined
You’re on a plane. . . or in your car. . . or in a restaurant. . . or seated in class or at work . . when all of a sudden it happens – a panic attack.
The DSM-5 defines a panic attack as an experience characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- A feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
- Chills or hot flushes
The experience of fewer than four of these symptoms may be described as a limited-symptom panic attack, or more colloquially, an anxiety attack.
For those who have suffered panic attacks, these can be some of the most frightening experiences there are, especially when you don’t know what they are. Learning how to cope with them is key – and can reduce their intensity and duration. While the following coping statements don’t serve as a substitute for professional treatment, they can help you begin to weather these attacks. Some might also be helpful when experiencing difficult emotions or urges to engage in self-destructive behaviors.
Panic Attack Coping Statements
- My body is issuing a false alarm. In a few minutes, the alarm should stop.
- I am not in physical danger.
- These symptoms are uncomfortable/unpleasant, but my health is not at risk.
- This is my brain misreading and misfiring. I am actually okay.
- My body knows how to breathe on its own.
- If I can accept these feelings and breathe through them, they’ll likely go away sooner.
- I have survived similar experiences before.
- Symptoms of panic do not mean I’m “going crazy” and are not indicative or predictive of other mental illnesses.
- Panic attacks are fairly common and short-lived experiences.
- I can do this.
Have you used any of these coping statements yourself? Which of these (or others) can you imagine working for you?
Gatewell has a team of therapists specializing in anxiety disorders and can help you implement these coping statements and offer other strategies toward addressing symptoms of panic and anxiety.