Techniques for De-escalating Panic Attacks

It is estimated that 5% of adults in the US will experience a panic attack, and panic attacks are twice as common in women. Panic attacks can manifest in a number of different ways, but luckily naturopathic medicine has many drugless options for treatment. 1, 2

Common symptoms of a panic attack include accelerated heart rate or palpitations, sweating, dissociation (feeling disconnected from your body and/or your surroundings), chest pain, shortness of breath, fear, dizziness, nausea, and numbness or tingling. 3, 4, 5 Panic attacks are usually thought of as occurring within people diagnosed with panic disorder, but they are common among many others as well and can be triggered by a specific event or can occur unprovoked and unexpectedly.

If you experience panic attacks, it is important to talk to your ND or other healthcare provider in order to determine the best route for working through them based on your individual experience and to rule out other causes of your symptoms. However, there are a number of simple de-escalation and prevention techniques that many people find useful for coping. Here are some steps that you can try which are often helpful in decreasing the severity and frequency of panic attacks.

Sleep More

Better sleep reduces anxiety and the likelihood of frequent panic attacks. 6 , 7 Many people have trouble sleeping, and insomnia is particularly common in those diagnosed with panic disorder. 8 Focus on creating a consistent nightly routine, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and check out our blog on herbal sleep aids.

CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most researched non-medical treatments for panic attacks. 9, 10 CBT involves teaching a patient relaxation exercises, cognitive restructuring techniques, and may include some exposure to panic symptoms or triggers in a safe environment in order to normalize these feelings and reduce panic when they come up unexpectedly. 11 It is important to work with a licensed therapist/provider when purposefully exposing oneself to triggers in order to manage the side effects of exposure.

Avoid Stimulants

People who are prone to severe anxiety and/or panic attacks should avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine in excess. These stimulants do not cause panic attacks, but they can exacerbate panic attacks and anxiety. 12 For more information on how nutrition can help alleviate panic attacks, talk to a licensed naturopathic doctor. NDs can then develop a customized nutrition plan suited to your specific needs.

Breathing Exercises

Often, people experiencing a panic attack will lose control of their breath and find themselves hyperventilating or feeling smothered. 13 Breath training is a commonly used treatment for panic attacks. Slow, steady breathing exercises help you learn how to control your breath and focus on it instead of on your feelings of panic. 14, 15  Try practicing breathing exercises regularly when you are feeling relaxed so that it is easier for you to implement the techniques during a panic attack. Try to actively feel the sensations from one breath flowing into and out from your body. Notice how the air feels in your nostrils, your shoulders, your rib cage, your belly and connect with your breath to ground yourself. For more detailed instructions on breath exercise practice, click here.

Remember,  our bodies have the innate ability to heal. When the root cause is addressed, many patients with anxiety-related symptoms find relief from naturopathic approaches.

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