Since the COVID-19 pandemic has begun, anxiety and panic attacks have continued to increase. Some anxiety about our current situation is absolutely normal. Anxiety is one of the most functional emotions we have as humans. It is like a built-in alarm system that helps keep us safe and warn us of danger by sending signals to our body to respond. Due to the global pandemic, there is a rise in threat and danger in the outside world and as a result of this, our internal alarms are constantly going off. With the limiting of socializing and local lock-downs, there has been panic everywhere. It is when you start to notice your anxiety is taking over every aspect of your day-to-day life, that there may be an issue. Your brain starts to tell you that everything is a danger and can make even the most normal tasks seem impossible.
Anxiety can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. It happens when you misinterpret a “false alarm” to be dangerous by being bombarded with messages of danger or threat or when you try to leave the house. They usually happen when you do not feel in control and your anxiety levels are high. Panic attacks are just our bodies pumping adrenaline through our bodies, heart rate and breathing becomes faster in order to pump extra oxygen through our bodies in order to tell our brain that we are in danger. You may notice intrusive thoughts, like thinking you’re going to die or something terrible is going to happen, you may faint or lose control, thinking you’re going crazy or that you can’t cope with your current situation. Your behavior may change because of this like avoiding certain places, running to the bathroom, running away to safety, and getting angry. If you are noticing any of these, here are some things to keep in mind when figuring out how to cope with your panic attacks.
There are a few things that can cause a panic attack. They can be triggered by feeling unsafe, either by being faced with a phobia or while in particular situations. Some people may struggle with public transport by flying, social situations, supermarkets, or being in a lift can all be triggers. Changes in the body can also be a trigger. For instance, drinking a lot of caffeine can cause heart palpitations, and can lead to a panic attack.
With the pandemic going on, wearing a mask can be a trigger and bring on a panic attack if the person feels as if they cannot breathe. Social distancing can make you begin to see others as “dangerous”, so being in close distance to others and in highly populated areas can cause anxiety attacks. Panic attacks can also come on suddenly, with no warnings. If you feel like you’re having a panic attack, try these five things to get through it:
- Breathe. Breathe slowly in through your nose and count to four, and out through your mouth and count to four. Do this several times in a row.
- Find a distraction. Count backwards from 3,000 by six. pull up a random web page and count all the T’s that you see on the page. Focus on a picture or painting and count the shapes and colors. Anything that you can find to keep your mind occupied will help.
- Reassure yourself. Our thoughts can be misleading, so remember that during panic attacks you are misinterpreting the world as dangerous. Talk to yourself and tell yourself that you are safe and that you will be okay.
- Grounding. Ground yourself into the world around you. What date is it? What do you notice around you? What can you hear, smell, touch, and see?
- Soothe yourself. Listen to your favorite music, suck on a piece of candy, carry a pleasant smell around in a handkerchief, or keep an object that you can focus all of your attention on. These can be very helpful before you go into a situation that makes you feel anxious. It can help keep you grounded and prevent panic attacks from happening.
For people who are experiencing panic attacks for the first time, self-help materals can be beneficial. However, if you are noticing that you are really struggling with your panic attacks talk with your primary care physician. They can refer you to a mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling to help you manage your anxiety and panic attacks.
Here are a few other resources for self-help materials:
- If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or the local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to speak with a crisis counselor
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