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  • Writer's pictureRenee Melges

10 tips to manage panic attacks – from a holistic psychologist


A picture of rocks and serene beach to support with managing panic attack

Holistic Psychologist Renee Melges has been supporting people who experience panic attacks for many years. Here she brings together her key support tips.


Panic attacks can be overwhelming. However, employing strategies like deep breathing, grounding techniques, using aromatherapy, or repeating affirmations may alleviate their symptoms. While predicting panic attacks is difficult, creating a plan for managing them can instil a sense of control and make them more manageable when they occur.


In this article



What is a panic attack?


A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of anxiety resulting in overwhelming physical sensations of fear. Symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath lasting from a few minutes to half an hour, yet their physical and emotional effects may endure for hours.

 

Symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to symptoms associated with having a heart attack, stroke, asthma attack or other medical emergency. Consequently, it's essential to distinguish between panic attacks and other health emergencies, especially if experiencing chest pain during an episode. If you are in any doubt, and you have pain in your chest, then call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

 

Panic attacks are interchangeably termed anxiety attacks. Left untreated, recurring and prolonged panic attacks can significantly impair daily functioning, leading people to avoid various situations out of fear of experiencing an attack.

 


What are the symptoms of a panic attack?


Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • increased heart rate

  • shortness of breath

  • sweating

  • trembling or shaking

  • a feeling of constriction in the chest

  • chest pain

  • feeling like you’re choking

  • nausea or pain in the stomach

  • feeling lightheaded, dizzy or faint

  • numbness or tingling

  • hot or cold flushes

  • feelings of unreality and detachment from the environment or oneself

  • fear of dying

  • fear of losing control

  • tense muscles

  • dry mouth


How to manage panic attacks - tips from a holistic psychologist


Tip 1 - Remember it will pass


In managing panic attacks, it's vital to remind yourself that the intense feelings and sensations will eventually subside.


Understanding that the experience, though overwhelming, is temporary can provide a sense of reassurance and control. Reminding yourself of this can help alleviate the fear and anxiety that often accompany panic attacks, allowing you to ride out the episode with greater resilience.


Moreover, recognising that panic attacks have a beginning, middle, and end can empower you to implement coping strategies, such as deep breathing or grounding techniques, while awaiting relief. Embracing the notion that the attack will pass encourages a more adaptive response, fostering a sense of confidence in your ability to navigate and overcome future episodes.



Tip 2 - Take deep breaths


During a panic attack, fast breathing often exacerbates symptoms. Engaging in a simple deep breathing exercise can help alleviate distress.

 

Here is an example of a deep breathing exercise. Follow these steps.


  • Inhale slowly, deeply, and gently through your nose.

  • Exhale slowly, deeply, and gently through your mouth.

  • Count steadily from 1 to 5 during each inhalation and exhalation.

  • Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing rhythm, allowing it to become your focal point.

 


Tip 3 - Aromatherapy


Several studies have suggested that aromatherapy can be an effective complementary approach in reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks. Research has shown that certain essential oils possess anxiolytic properties, helping to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and panic. For example, lavender essential oil has been widely studied for its calming effects on the nervous system and has shown promise in reducing panic attack frequency and severity when used in aromatherapy. The use of aromatherapy with specific essential oils presents a promising avenue for those who are seeking natural methods to alleviate panic symptoms.

 


Tip 4 - Calm Place


Creating a safe and quiet environment can help alleviate feelings of being overwhelmed during a panic attack. Removing yourself from overwhelming stimuli can provide a sense of control and safety, reducing the intensity of the panic attack.


Creating a calm and soothing environment can help you feel more relaxed and grounded during a panic attack. This may involve creating a designated space in your home or workplace that is free from distractions with comforting objects such as the use of soft lighting, relaxing music, or a diffuser with calming essential oils.



Tip 5 - Grounding techniques


Engaging the five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—can help ground you in the present moment when you are experiencing panic attacks in the present moment. By focusing on sensory input, you can divert your attention away from anxious thoughts and bring your awareness to your immediate surroundings, which can help reduce the severity of the panic attack.


5 senses grounding technique chart

Tip 6 - Repeating a mantra “This too shall pass”


Repeating a mantra such as "This too shall pass" can serve as a reminder that panic attacks are temporary and will eventually subside. By repeating this phrase, you can shift your perspective from feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of the panic attack to recognising that it is a passing experience.



Tip 7 - Movement, walking or light exercise


Physical activity, such as walking or light exercise, can help reduce the physiological symptoms of panic attacks, such as increased heart rate and muscle tension. Engaging in movement can also distract you from anxious thoughts and promote the release of endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce stress.



Tip 8 - Progressive muscle relaxation


Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. This technique can help alleviate physical tension and promote a sense of relaxation. By focusing on each muscle group, you can become more aware of tension in your body and learn to release it, which can help reduce the physical symptoms of panic attacks.



Tip 9 - Talk to someone


Sharing feelings and experiences with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health or medical professional can provide emotional support and validation during a panic attack. Talking to someone can help you feel less isolated and overwhelmed, and it may also provide an opportunity to gain perspective on your thoughts and feelings.



Tip 10 - Learn your triggers


Identifying triggers—such as specific situations, thoughts, or emotions—that contribute to panic attacks can empower you to anticipate and effectively manage them. By recognising patterns and triggers, you can develop coping strategies and implement preventative measures to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks over time.



How holistic counselling can help


Engaging in holistic counselling can be transformative for those of you who are struggling with panic attacks and anxiety management.


Holistic counselling provides a nurturing space where you can delve into the roots of your anxiety, uncovering hidden triggers and learning invaluable coping mechanisms. Through therapeutic exploration, you gain insight into your negative thought patterns and belief systems, enabling you to challenge and reframe these patterns in alignment with your core values.

 

Consistent holistic counselling sessions can foster profound shifts in perspective and empower you to confront your fears with newfound resilience and confidence. Over time, therapy equips you with the tools you need to not only alleviate panic attacks but also to navigate life's challenges in accordance with their authentic selves, leading to a renewed sense of empowerment.



About Psychologist Renee Melges

Renee Melges Holistic Psychologist

Renee Melges is a holistic Psychologist based in Melbourne and a registered Clinical Psychologist Ashburton, who offers in person sessions and holistic counselling online and also Australia-wide. Read more about Renee here.

 

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