How Breathing Slowly Can Help Control the Severity of a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are often filled with intense feelings of fear and doom. Your mind goes at a mile a minute, you start to worry about your health and your body. You may even have a type of out of body experience that is nothing short of terrifying. Panic attacks are one of, if not the most severe type of anxiety reaction.

But it’s not just mental either. Panic attacks are also very physical, with symptoms that resemble those of series medical conditions, including:

  • Chest Pains
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Weakness and Tingling

You can almost feel your heart struggling, as though something is going terribly, terribly wrong in your body. These physical symptoms can be so severe, that many people develop health anxiety as a result of their panic attacks, and in many cases the fear of these physical symptoms cause panic attacks to recur.

What Causes Physical Symptoms?

Therapy is the best strategy for controlling panic attacks, especially therapy that helps you learn how to control both the cognitive and behavioral components of panic. But some people find that if they can reduce the severity of their panic attacks, the attacks become slightly more manageable.

Controlling the mental symptoms without help can be a challenge. But controlling the physical symptoms is possible for many. That is because many (although not all) of the physical symptoms of panic attacks are due to hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation and Panic Attacks

Shallow or rapid breathing can cause your body to take in too much oxygen, and release too much carbon dioxide. Contrary to popular belief, your body does need some carbon dioxide to function. When you breathe too fast, you breathe out carbon dioxide faster than you can create it. Without CO2, your blood moves less quickly and your blood vessels restrict. This then causes less blood to reach your brain, your body to work harder, your lungs to struggle to expand, and more.

Though not dangerous, the effects of hyperventilation include chest pains, lightheadedness, trouble breathing, and more. Your body also has what’s known as a “paradoxical” reaction. Even though you have too much oxygen in your blood, your body feels as though you’re not getting enough air, causing you to breathe even faster or try to yawn/breathe deeply. Then, when there isn’t enough room for the air to go, it restricts that breathing and leads to that feeling of being unable to get enough air.

How to Control Hyperventilation During a Panic Attack

When you feel like a panic attack may be starting, the best thing you can do is fight the urge to take deep breaths or yawn, and instead take slow, controlled breaths that give your body a chance to re-create the carbon dioxide it needs. You can do this with the following breathing technique:

  • Take in air slowly through your nose. It should take at least 5 seconds.
  • Hold for 2 to 3 full seconds. This gives your body time to create some CO2.
  • Breathe out slowly (about 7 seconds) through pursed lips, like you are trying to whistle.

Panic attacks are very complex, and not everyone benefits from this type of breathing. But when the symptoms of your panic attacks are caused primarily by hyperventilation, this type of breathing strategy can help reduce the severity of the physical component of the attack so that it feels less overwhelming, and more in your control.

If you are struggling with panic attacks in the Greater Long Island area and are looking for a therapist to help you recover, call me today at (516) 732-0273.