What to Tell Yourself during a Panic Attack
I’m going to die. I’m helpless. I’m going crazy.
Certain thoughts commonly reoccur during panic attacks. But they’re simply untrue, and the best way to fight them is with the truth.
Panic attacks are often misunderstood. Many people believe that panic attacks are short bursts of anxiety or stress that can be easily calmed or avoided. The common reproach “You gave me a panic attack!” implies that these experiences are situational. That’s not quite right. Panic attacks are experiences of severe anxiety that are sudden, overwhelming, and often unprovoked. These episodes also cause a significant physical response.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that the following symptoms can occur during panic attacks:
- Fear so intense that it might feel paralyzing
- A fast or racing heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- A choking sensation
- Chest pains
- Sudden feverish warmth or chills
- Tingling in fingers or toes
- Fear that you’re going crazy
- Fear that you may die
The persistent thoughts that many people experience during panic attacks, such as I’m going to die, I’m helpless, and I’m going crazy, are inaccurate and damaging, as they make it more difficult for you to cope. Here are some accurate, affirmative statements you can tell yourself to counteract these false thoughts.
1. “I’m having a panic attack.”
You might experience relief by simply identifying what’s happening to you. This identification can manage fears that you might be dealing with something more dangerous, such as a serious medical condition. This thought might also help you to accept what’s occurring, putting you into a better position to cope with it.
2. “I’m safe.”
A panic attack alone cannot kill you. This can be difficult to believe because of all the physical symptoms you may experience during a panic attack. Many of these symptoms, such as dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and elevated heart rate, mimic other medical conditions. Reminding yourself that you are safe and not at risk of injury or death might help you to calm yourself. If you have any doubts or if your typical panic attack symptoms change, then you should consult a doctor.
3. “This will pass.”
Your body cannot sustain the amount of energy it takes to keep a panic attack going. The APA has reported that panic attacks often pass in a few minutes, and Dr. Star reports that panic attacks generally reach a peak after 10 minutes and then subside. The APA also notes that multiple attacks can start and stop for hours, one after the other. So what might feel like one interminable panic attack is actually a series of individual attacks. The good news is that panic attacks are not endless; they will always come to an end.
4. “I’m sane.”
The nature of panic attacks can convince you that you’re losing your mind. Panic attacks occur suddenly and without provocation, so you cannot take precautions or determine why you’re having an attack. If your friend were to jump out from around a corner and you felt shocked or scared momentarily, that would make sense. But panic attacks aren’t like that. They often have no rhyme or reason. They can even occur while you’re sleeping. It’s important to remind yourself that the sudden, unexplained experience is the nature of the attack itself and has nothing to do with your perception of reality.
5. “I can do something about this.”
You can learn ways to manage and possibly prevent panic attacks. Some people consult with primary care doctors and psychiatrists to discuss medication options or consult with therapists to explore coping mechanisms. There are a variety of interventions that you can learn from therapists to help you to manage or prevent attacks.
Are you experiencing panic attacks, or do you need help supporting someone in your life who experiences panic attacks? If so, you may benefit from participating in individual, couples, or family therapy at Symmetry Counseling.
American Psychological Association. (2018). Answers to your questions about panic disorder. [Blog post] Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.aspx
Star, Katarina, PhD. (2016 Oct 27). 7 Common myths about panic attacks. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/common-myths-about-panic-attacks-2584405
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