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Stopping (Some) Panic Attacks Before They Start

Some panic attacks happen after a cue (such as hearing a particular noise or smelling a certain scent). Other panic attacks seem to come out of the blue. While this method may not help with the first kind of panic attack, it should help you to prevent the second type to a significant extent.

But first, take a look at this list:

  • Dizziness, faintness, or light-headedness
  • Feeling like you can’t get enough air or shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Pain/tightness in chest
  • Numbness or tingly feeling in extremities

This is a list of symptoms. The question is: symptoms for what condition? If you guessed panic attacks, you are incorrect. Sort of. Keep reading and I’ll explain. This is actually a list of symptoms that result from hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is when a person is breathing more quickly than their body needs them to. This results in a chance in the blood chemistry. Carbon dioxide level in the blood drops and you start feeling the symptoms listed above.

Those symptoms are also familiar to people who suffer panic attacks. Here’s the interesting thing: WebMD reports a study which found that people who suffered panic attacks were breathing rapidly and shallowly for about 45-minutes before the onset of their panic attacks. They likely weren’t aware of it but the devices they were wired up to detected the changed breathing. In other words, these people slowly began to hyperventilate and once they felt the symptoms of hyperventilation, they identified it as a panic attack and kicked off the entire panic attack cascade.

So, what lesson can you take from this? Watch your breathing. If you make it a point to check you breathing every hour or so, you may be able to prevent a significant number of your uncued panic attacks. I recommend using your phone’s alarms or an app to remind you to stop and do some slow, deep breathing every hour for about 2 minutes. You can refer to this post for instructions on one way to do slow, deep breathing. You can also refer to this article for an explanation of how slow, deep breathing can work to prevent a panic attack or to help end a panic attack that has already started.

One last thing: like any skill, the skill of slow, deep breathing to calm the fight-or-flight system will work better when it’s practiced at times when it’s not needed. If you do the slow, deep breathing every hour, that’s your practice. Over-practicing makes it more likely you can remember this skill and implement it during a full panic attack, as well.

As always, I invite you to call or text me at (816) 226-4678 to schedule an appointment or to arrange a free 30-minute consultation.

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