We’ve talked many times about ways to improve your mental health and eliminate stress from your life. But part of the mental health conversation is understanding that while there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to improve your mental health, anxiety or panic attacks can’t always be avoided, no matter how much you exercise or how well you eat.

Identifying a Panic Attack

How many times have you heard a friend say, “I couldn’t find my shoes this morning and had a panic attack.” While they were probably annoyed and maybe even a little stressed, odds are, they didn’t actually have a panic attack.

Panic attacks are all too often used as a synonym for stress, but the two are very different. Panic attacks aren't feelings of nervousness, they’re feelings of extreme anxiety and, for lack of a better word, panic. Some of the most common physical and mental symptoms of a panic attack are:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling like you’re being suffocated
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling like you’re going crazy
  • Feeling like you may die

Managing a Panic Attack

Though people tend to be more prone to panic attacks during times of increased stress, an attack can strike anytime, anywhere, even if you’re just walking down the street or out to dinner. If you feel a panic attack coming on, these are a few things you can do to take control of the situation:

Find a Comfortable Space

While there’s certainly no opportune place to have a panic attack, attacks are often exacerbated when in public because the person having it starts panicking about the fact that they’re having a panic attack in front of others. The best thing you can do in that situation is identify an attack coming on as soon as possible and excuse yourself to a quiet space. Now, you can focus just on making yourself feel better.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

There’s a reason why deep breathing exercises are so often suggested for people who have anxiety — it’s because they really do work! Deep breathing supplies your heart and brain with more oxygen and can relax your body, which tenses up during a panic attack. Once your body begins to relax, so will your mind.

Grab a Glass of Water

Like deep breathing, water can help calm you down by hydrating your body and balancing out certain chemicals and hormones in your brain.

Think Positively

Though it may not seem like it at first, the panic attack will end. Think about a time in the past when you successfully overcame your stress, think about something exciting you’re going to do over the weekend, or think about your favorite movie. Distracting yourself is another great way to prevent panic attack-induced panic.

Practice these relaxation tips every day and you’ll wake up each morning feeling more confident and more in control of your mental health.