Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

In this guide, we will discuss the “Prevention of a panic attack”, what is a panic attack, symptoms of a panic attack, what goes through your mind, is it helpful to take care of your body? Can panic disorder be prevented?, among other things to consider.

Prevention of panic attack

Here are some tips when preventing a panic attack:

  • Avoid consuming products that contain caffeine, such as energy drinks, coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate.
  • There are certain over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies that may help reduce anxiety symptoms, but it is crucial to talk to your physician or pharmacist before taking any over the counter medicines or herbal remedies.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

But what is a panic attack? According to Smith, Robinson & Segal (2019), “A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and you may feel like you’re dying or going crazy. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger. They may even occur when you’re relaxed or asleep.”

Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

Even if a panic attack may not be prevented (per se), there are some things you could do (as the ones we have mentioned) to reduce stress and reduce the symptoms associated with panic attacks. According to WebMD, “Experts haven’t found a way to completely prevent panic attacks. But if you think you might be prone to them, you can take steps to help protect yourself. And it starts with your everyday habits.”

If you have been to your doctor, have told them about the symptoms and they have ruled out any other causes that could explain the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, chest pain, etc., then they may have indicated you suffer from panic attacks. Moreover, you may have tried to understand why this happens.

Many experts can’t agree on a sole explanation as of why panic attacks happen. However, they agree on certain factors that may contribute to them such as your family history, stressful events (i.e. the death of a loved one),  history of substance abuse, problems with your brain or nervous system, mental health issues (i.e. depression), among others.

In addition, they have indicated how nutrition seems to play an important role. For instance, keeping a balanced diet, avoiding nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs may put you in the right direction when mitigating anxiety symptoms.

An advice: if you’re alone, know who to call when having a panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack

The signs and symptoms of a panic attack may develop abruptly and without a warning, usually reaching its peak after 10 minutes and they are rarely an hour long where most really end between 20 to 30 minutes. 

Panic attacks will more likely take place during the day anywhere, but they can also happen when you sleep and they are known as nocturnal attacks. Here are some of the symptoms associated to panic attacks:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations or racing heart
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Choking feeling
  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy

Panic attacks vs Panic Disorder

Many people will only experience one or two panic attacks without any further complications or other episodes. However, some people will develop panic disorder, meaning recurrent or repeated panic attacks, characterized by a change in behavior or persistent anxiety over the idea of having future panic attacks.

You may be suffering from Panic disorder if you have experienced frequent and repeated panic attacks that are uncued or seem to be ‘out of the blue’, constantly worry about having a future panic attack and start behaving differently such as avoiding certain places where you have previously had a panic attack.

Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

What about my mind-set or thoughts?

As indicated by WebMD, “try to figure out if it tends to happen in certain situations. To start, keep notes on when you become anxious and then look for patterns. Once you discover something that gets you frazzled, seek ways to handle it better. For instance, if taking a walk helps settle your nerves, go for a stroll before you face situations or events that might agitate you.”

One of the most useful therapies recommended to treat panic attacks is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Here, with the help of a therapist you can learn how to recognize and challenge your thoughts while learning some useful ways to cope with the anxiety. Moreover, mindful meditation is another recommended practice when dealing with irrational or negative thoughts.

Subsequently, changing certain thoughts that would normally appear during certain situations will make our life easier.

Do I need to take care of my body?

Some experts believe taking care of your body will improve the way you think and perceive the world and yourself. Here are some recommendations:

  • Exercise regularly. You don’t have to push yourself in the gym or kill yourself doing may hours at a time. Instead, try to do at least 2.5 hours a week (in total) of moderate activity such as walking or you could also do 1 hours and a half, of intense exercise such as jogging or swimming. However, exercises such as yoga, or tai chi have also been proposed as good options to reduce anxiety.
  • Deep breathing exercises. The opinion whether these types of exercises are useful or not is divided. Some people manifest deep breathing makes their symptoms worse but we need to consider how many people don’t know how to breathe during a panic attack, especially when the breathing pattern becomes shallow and superficial.
  • Getting enough sleep. This is crucial to avoid feeling fatigued during the day.
Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

Can panic disorder be prevented?

As you may know, a panic attack can happen once or twice in your lifetime but if you have repeated episodes we can talk about panic disorder. “Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public—especially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response (Smith, Robinson & Segal, 2019).” 

As indicated by Darla Burke from healthline.com,  “It may not be possible to prevent panic disorder. However, you can work to reduce your symptoms by avoiding alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine as well as illicit drugs. It is also helpful to notice if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety following a distressing life event. If you are bothered by something that you experienced or were exposed to, discuss the situation with your primary care provider.”

Prevention of panic attacks (Can we prevent them?)

However, we know there are many useful techniques that can help in the relief of the symptoms associated with panic attacks. Moreover, educate yourself on panic and anxiety, avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages (i.e. coffee, energy drinks, tea). In addition, learning how to control your breathing can become quite useful for some. Little tips such as the ones we have mentioned can make quite a difference when experiencing panic attacks, try them out and see which one is better for you.

Also learn ways of stopping a panic attack in public, to save yourself from humiliation and prevent other serious issues.

Why is this blog about Prevention of panic attack important?

As we have discussed, it is not really possible to prevent panic attacks but we could adopt certain strategies to mitigate the symptoms. Also, knowing what a panic attack, the symptoms and how it feels can help you understand what is happening and how to anticipate the onset of an episode. Moreover, having a balanced diet, exercising regularly (i.e. walking, yoga, swimming), changing your habits such as quitting caffeine, alcohol or nicotine can help improve anxiety. 

In addition, assisting in therapy, identifying and modifying irrational thoughts, deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques have been indicated also as useful to help someone cope with panic attacks. Remember medicines can only be prescribed by a physician and need to be taken under supervision, so if you have decided you have tried everything and nothing seems to work, pay a visit to your GP to evaluate your options. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Prevention of panic attack

How can panic attacks be prevented?

Panic attacks can be prevented or shortened through some tips or strategies you can implement such as:

– Using deep breathing techniques.

– Recognizing you are having a panic attack instead of fighting it.

– Closing your eyes and imagining your happy place.

– Practicing mindfulness meditation.

– Find an object in the room you can focus on and start describing all the details, the color, texture, shape, etc.

– Use muscle relaxation techniques.

What triggers panic attacks?

Panic attacks can be triggered for many reasons but sometimes we don’t specifically know the exact reason. However, severe stress such as going through the loss of a loved one, getting divorced, losing your job, having a child, etc., can be responsible for panic attacks. Moreover, there could be medical conditions and other physical causes that can be associated with panic attacks.

How do you stop a panic attack without medication?

You can treat panic attacks without medication exercising regularly, meditating, using relaxation techniques, keeping a journal, managing time more effectively, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, cannabis oil, having a healthy diet, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, as well as the use of recreational drugs.

What is the best natural medicine for panic attacks?

There are several herbal medicines that are said to be useful for panic attacks. However, do not attempt to consume any of it without consulting with a physician first. Here are some of them:

– Kava.

– Passionflower.

– Valerian.

– Chamomile.

– Lavender.

– Lemon balm.

What is the best treatment for panic attacks?

The treatment of panic attacks can be medication only, psychotherapy only, or a combination of both. However, in terms of medication, doctors usually prescribe SSRIs for the treatment of panic disorder which include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), and sertraline (Zoloft). 

References 

Burke, D. (2018, Aug.) Panic Disorder. Retrieved from healthline.com.

My.clevelandclinic.org: “Panic Disorder: Prevention”

Webmd.com: “How Can I Prevent Panic Attacks?”

Smith, M, Robinson, L. & Segal, J. (2019, Oct.) Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder. Retrieved from helpguide.org.

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.