Available for Interviews: Colleen Cira, PsyD
Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Trauma and anxiety and has worked with hundreds of people who have struggled with panic attacks.
A panic attack occurs when your sympathetic nervous system responds as though you are in danger. A number of reactions can occur: one may feel hot (or alternatively, cold), dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath, rapid heart rate, etc. It can be really scary, especially if you don’t know what’s going on or feel powerless over the feelings. Here are a few things you can do to stop a panic attack in its tracks:
1) Understand what you are experiencing. Recognize it for what it is: simply a panic attack. You are not in danger. You will not pass out (research is clear about this even though it might feel otherwise). You are not ill. It’s just your perfectly healthy, normal nervous system doing what it does best. Once you feel clear that this is actually a panic attack (as opposed to something else you need to worry about), you can just deal with what’s happening.
2) Acceptance. Once you have the awareness that you’re having a panic attack, work on accepting that. If all you’re doing is trying to push the uncomfortable symptoms away, most people typically have the experience of the symptoms getting stronger. It’s the whole don’t-think-about-a-pink-elephant phenomenon. Try some loving acceptance instead. Perhaps say to yourself, in your head or aloud if you’re lucky enough to have your own office, something like “you’re having an anxious reaction. That’s all that’s going on. I’m going to manage this the best I can and it’s going to be fine either way”
3) Listen to your body. If you are feeling like you are crawling out of your skin, move around. If you’re at your desk, go take a walk toward the bathroom. Or if you get breaks, take a walk outside. Find a reason to go to another floor in your building and use the staircase instead of the elevator. Your symptoms will feel less uncomfortable when you’re moving because there’s not as much cognitive dissonance. If you are perfectly still and trying to “relax”, but your body is going crazy, it’ll make it far more uncomfortable.
4) Focus on your breath. A panic attack can be caused, or exacerbated by, hyperventilating whereas just a few deep, belly breaths can reverse the cycle of panic and activate the other side of your nervous system (your parasympathetic nervous system) that is responsible for bringing everything back to baseline. In order to reap the benefits from this, simply force yourself to take the slowest breath you can through your nose with your mouth closed, hold the breath for a few seconds and then exhale out your nose with your mouth closed even more slowly than you inhaled. Take at least 5-10 of these breaths.
Interview: Dr. Colleen Cira
Colleen Cira, Psy.D., received both her Masters and Doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and has been practicing in the field since 2001. Dr. Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC a boutique group practice with locations in Chicago and Oak Park that specializes in Women’s Issues/Health and Trauma. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.
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