Person places hand over stomach and chest while breathing with eyes closed; vines of flowers grow from her nostrils.

Coping with Panic Attacks

Last updated: December 2021

Before having COPD, I never suffered from panic attacks. It just wasn't a part of my world. I guess I never even witnessed someone else experiencing panic to the level of an attack.

Today, I am well-practiced when it comes to panic. It is no fun, and being in a state of breathlessness is enough to throw the best of us totally off course. Having a panic attack is like being on a cliff and having to talk yourself down.

What is the source of stress?

The one thing that invariably throws me into a state of panic is when I am feeling rushed. I am learning not to commit to any event or task that could make me feel rushed.

Figuring out what causes you to feel stressed is the first step to controlling and stopping panic attacks from happening. But knowing how to stop a stressful situation and stay in control of your breath will make life so much better.

The question is, "what can we do?". I think that as individuals, we must discover a plan of action that works for us. If your inhalers work when panic strikes you, start there. The most powerful lesson I have learned is to have a plan of action and immediately concentrate on relaxing. The tenser our bodies get, the harder it is to relax.

Calming yourself down

When I start to feel like things are unraveling in my day-to-day routine, I can very easily slip into a full-blown panic attack. It starts with a tightness in my chest and can quickly advance to a sense of not being able to breathe.

I have learned a few tricks that help me, and so far, I have successfully regained my composure before seeking medical relief.

When I feel stress building, the best thing I can do is sit down, put on a breathing video, and begin a slow and steady breathing exercise. I know this may sound so elementary. And, it is, but sometimes it just works, especially if you catch it soon.

The sooner I pay attention to the situation, the better chance I get control of the problem. If you go online and look, numerous breathing videos are available and may help when you are in distress.

Strategies to help

If you are at home, I suggest putting on some easy listening music. Try lying flat on a yoga mat and just concentrating on the moment. If you can, try some gentle stretching. I have a favorite window that I like to focus on that helps me regroup my thoughts.

Pursed lip breathing is a go-to when all else fails. I have literally used this breathing technique for several hours before getting relief. I am guessing that most of you reading this have used the exercise before. If you haven't, I encourage you to spend some time practicing and find a comfortable breathing routine that calms your body.

Some of my go-to steps to reduce stress include counting, coloring, working a crossword puzzle, looking at a magazine, and meditating. Talking aloud, answering questions, and rushing are a few things that I must avoid. Remember, it takes oxygen to talk.

Find what works for you

So, start with working to eliminate the source of your frustration and stress. Next, make a plan for overcoming shortness of breath when it does happen.

I encourage you to write it down and practice breathing exercises or calming techniques so that it becomes second nature and you don't have to think about it too much. Talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing and the best way to manage it.

I hope that having a plan and knowing what it takes to calm yourself down will help you as much as it is helping me.

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