Panic attacks are hard to describe to those who've never experienced one, and unmistakable to those who have. They're often characterized by light-headedness, difficulty breathing, and a sense of impending danger. These unpleasant sensations can appear suddenly and without warning, making them even more terrifying. Not all panic attacks look or feel the same, and as such they shouldn't be treated the same. But for some sufferers, a strategy recommended by one psychologist could help make episodes more manageable.
As Arash Emamzadeh writes for Psychology Today, "leaning into" the symptoms of your anxiety can be healthier than resisting them. That may sound counterintuitive: How can going along with the fear that something horrible is about to happen be good for you? But this method is less about giving into your anxious thoughts and more about tuning into your physical sensations and staying grounded in the moment.
There's some science that suggests this works. According to research presented in April 2018, just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation—being conscious of your body and environment without assigning value to anything you feel—was enough to reduce anxiety in people with anxiety disorders.
When you're having a panic attack, regaining control of your thoughts may pose a challenge. One place to start is by asking yourself some questions. Emamzadeh recommends "What am I feeling right now?," "What am I sensing in my body?," and "How am I interpreting these feelings and sensations?" If your panic is primarily related to thoughts about things that might happen, or have happened in the past, focusing on what's actually going on in your body may alleviate some of your fear.
Of course, this isn't the case for everyone. For some people, the physical symptoms of a panic attack—such as rapid breathing or a pounding heartbeat—may further contribute to the idea that something bad is happening and only exacerbate the sensation. If that's the case, try focusing on an unrelated sensation, like the feeling of your feet on the floor or a breeze blowing in your face. You can also try naming, touching, and describing objects in your immediate area.
This, of course, is only one psychologist's advice, and just because it works for some people doesn't mean it will work for all. The best way to prepare for a panic attack is to consult a doctor and figure out a treatment that's tailored to fit your needs.
[h/t Psychology Today]