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Question: Hi. I have panic attacks every day. I’m going to see a therapist soon, but I really want to know how these panic attacks will go away because they scare me so much, and I don't know what to do. So basically, I have two questions: how do you get rid of panic attacks, and will this anxiety ever go away, because it’s ruining my life.
Answer: Thank you for your question. Panic attacks are not that uncommon. In fact, about 2 to 3 percent of people will have a panic attack in any given year. In other words, there will be two to three people dealing with panic attacks in approximately every three classes (put together) in your school.
You said you are going to see a therapist soon. That’s really good, because most people who see a psychotherapist learn how to control their panic attacks in just 12 to 16 weeks. Even those who take longer than 16 weeks start feeling better after a few weeks of treatment.
Here are a few tips to help you deal with your panic attacks while waiting for your first appointment:
Call it what it is. When you start feeling your heart pounding or you are having trouble breathing, say, “I’m having a panic attack.” Naming it for what it is will allow you to refocus from panicking (i.e., not knowing what is going on) to understanding that “It's just a panic attack."
Stop worrying by sticking to the facts. Remind yourself that a tight chest, heart palpitations or feeling sick means you are worried and that the feeling will pass as soon as you stop worrying. Say, “It may feel like a heart attack, but it’s not. It’s a panic attack. I'm not going to die, because people don’t die from a panic attack."
Slow your breathing and relax your body. Take 15 slow deep breaths and count them as you take them. A slow deep breath takes time. Let your chest fill up as you draw air into your lungs. Hold it briefly and then let it out. Push the last bit of air out before you take your next breath. As you breathe in and out, listen closely to your breathing. You should be able to hear it. Count your breaths as you take them. Do this 15 times.
Refocus. As soon as you feel in control of your fear, try to turn your attention back to what you were doing before your symptoms started. If you're shopping in a mall when your panic starts, then, as soon as you have calmed yourself down, focus all of your attention on “shopping.” That means looking carefully at what is in the store, thinking about what there is to buy, asking yourself what you like and dislike, or thinking about where you are going to go next in the mall -- anything that keeps your attention on the activity.
Practice, practice, practice. Like anything else, stopping your panic attacks is a skill. You have to practice interrupting your attacks every time you feel one coming on. Eventually, you'll learn that shortness of breath is just shortness of breath and nothing bad is going to happen.
Keep going. Even if you are worried something might lead to a panic attack, you should still do it. Keep in mind, the worst thing that can happen is you have a panic attack. You may not feel very well for a brief period of time, but it won't last very long. Just make sure you rehearse steps 1 to 4 so you are ready next time when the panic attack strikes.
And yes, you can get rid of panic attacks and prevent them from ruining your life. Panic attacks are among the most treatable of all mental illnesses. As mentioned before, most people learn and master the skills they need to control their panic attacks in about 12 to 16 weeks.
Hope this helps. Let us know.