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Panic Disorder and Grounding Techniques

January 24, 2022

Many people get panic attacks but recover in a short period of time with little ill effect. But when panic attacks become regular and affect daily life, you may be experiencing the first signs of a panic disorder. But there may be ways to slow down or stop an attack.

What Is Panic Disorder?

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, “Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes occur ‘out of the blue,’ not in conjunction with a known fear or stressor.” Nearly three million U.S. adults have panic disorder each year, but the symptoms can often be managed.

Know The Symptoms

People of all ages can have a panic attack; it happens most often to teens and young adults. Children aren’t immune, and women get them twice as often as men. The most common symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort.
  • Chills.
  • Choking or suffocating feeling.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Fear of losing self-control.
  • Thinking like you’re at risk of dying.
  • An intense sense of terror.
  • Vomiting.
  • Racing heartbeat.
  • Perspiration.
  • Tingling or coldness in toes or fingers.
  • Shuddering or shaking.

What About Risk Factors?

Factors that may boost the chances of getting panic disorder or panic attacks include:

  • There’s a family history of either condition
  • You experience significant life stressors, such as the passing or acute sickness of a loved one
  • A traumatic event or a serious accident can trigger a panic disorder
  • Big changes in your life, like getting a divorce or becoming a first-time parent
  • You smoke or drink caffeinated beverages excessively
  • History of childhood or another abuse

Panic Disorder & Grounding Techniques

A panic attack is an 800-pound gorilla in the room, creating chaos for someone who has panic disorder. Panic attacks are challenging to stop when they’re in full swing, but making such an effort may “slow” them down until they run their course. Strategies you can employ to slow down or stop a panic attack are called grounding strategies.

According to Winona State University, grounding techniques are “a set of simple strategies that can help you detach from emotional pain (e.g., anxiety, anger, sadness, self-harm). It is a way to distract yourself by focusing on something other than the difficult emotions you are experiencing. You may also think of grounding as centering, distracting, creating a safe place, or healthy detachment.”

Physical examples of ground techniques:

  • Drench your hands in cool or warm water
  • Grab as tightly as possible onto a chair or stair rail and feel the sensation that it creates
  • Keep a small grounding object (like a smooth stone) with you when you need something to touch and feel bad emotions starting to build
  • Pay attention to simple bodily motions
  • Try stretching your limbs as far as possible and move your head from side to side
  • Open and close your fists
  • Trying to jump in place
  • Eat savory foods, enjoying the taste, texture, and colors
  • Pay attention to yourself as you breathe

Mental grounding techniques:

  • Describe your surroundings in detail, focusing on colors, scents, birds and clouds in the sky, the placement of windows in a downtown office building
  • Engage in a “categories” game where you think of anything – cars, restaurants, board games – and match them to a category that starts with letters of the alphabet and just go down the list
  • Read out loud to yourself
  • Recall something funny

Soothing grounding techniques include talking to yourself in a kindly fashion:

  • Say kind things about yourself
  • Recall each of your favorites in different categories
  • Remember people you care about
  • Repeat a coping statement

Diagnosis & Treatment

Major health troubles, such as cardiovascular disease, breathing problems, and thyroid disease, can trigger symptoms that you may see in panic attacks. If you think you have a panic disorder, see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. You may undergo tests to rule out a medical problem. Absent a physical cause; a medical professional could offer a diagnosis due to symptoms and risk factors or refer you to a mental health specialist for further examination.

Symptoms are often compared to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria before the final diagnosis. Treatment may include psychotherapy, medicine, or ketamine therapy.

Final Thoughts

If you think you have a panic disorder, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not getting help from a medical professional. It’s a severe disorder that can lower your quality of life if left untreated. Take action before that happens and learn about the best therapy for your condition.

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