Navigating Panic Attacks: Understanding, Coping, and Finding Solid Ground

Navigating Panic Attacks: Understanding, Coping, and Finding Solid Ground

Panic attacks can be an overwhelming and frightening experience, often leaving those who experience them feeling a loss of control and disconnected from reality. This heightened state of anxiety triggers the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, engaging the nervous system in a cascade of physiological reactions. Understanding panic attacks, including the phenomenon of derealization, and learning effective grounding techniques are crucial steps toward managing and overcoming these episodes.

 Panic attacks can hit anyone at any time. It can be triggered by anything from work stress, relationship problems, emotional trauma, or even a simple feeling of uncertainty. Panic attacks can be a very frightening experience that can leave you feeling isolated and alone. But the truth is, you’re not! Millions of people experience panic attacks every year. It’s important to remember that there are ways to manage panic attacks and find solid ground amidst the chaos. In this blog post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to navigate panic attacks, from understanding what they are to coping mechanisms, and finding solid ground.

To comprehend panic attacks, it’s important to understand the intricate workings of the nervous system. The autonomic nervous system, comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches, plays a huge role. During a panic attack, the sympathetic nervous system becomes hyperactive, initiating the fight-or-flight response. This response is similar to our reactions to real life or death situations, such as a natural disaster or attack.


What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are a sudden surge of overwhelming fear or anxiety that can last for several minutes or sometimes even an hour. Panic attacks can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, and an accelerated heartbeat. Panic attacks can be a very intense experience for those who suffer from it, and it can cause them to become overly fearful of experiencing another one in the future. The fear of panic attacks can cause the individual to engage in avoidance behaviors, such as staying away from places, objects, or situations that they associate with the onset of their panic attack.

Coping with Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can happen unexpectedly, but there are some coping mechanisms that you can use when you feel symptoms are building. Firstly, it’s essential to recognize and label the symptoms as panic attacks. This can help you avoid confusion and help you cope more effectively. Secondly, if possible, try to remove yourself from the situation or place that is causing the panic attack. Thirdly, practice deep breathing exercises to help calm your body and mind. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs to their fullest capacity, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Finally, try to remind yourself that panic attacks are temporary and will pass eventually.

Finding Solid Ground in Panic Attacks:

Panic attacks can leave you feeling like your world is falling apart, but remember that there is hope. It’s important to take care of your mental and physical health during this time. Speaking with a therapist can help provide you with useful tools to deal with your anxiety. Meditation and mindfulness can also help you stay grounded and improve your mental clarity. Exercising or going for a walk outside also benefits the mental and physical health, which positively impacts your overall well-being.

Fight, Flight, Freeze in Panic Attacks:

In this state, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline, elevating heart rate, dilating airways, and redirecting blood flow to essential organs. While this response is evolutionarily designed to protect us from immediate threats, it can be triggered inaccurately, leading to panic attacks in non-threatening situations.

Derealization in Panic Attacks:

Derealization is a common, yet unsettling symptom experienced during panic attacks. Individuals may feel detached from their surroundings, as if the world around them is distorted or unreal. This sensation further intensifies the panic attack, contributing to a cycle of heightened anxiety. Many individuals who experience this symptom feel as if something bigger than a panic attack is occurring within their body and this may lead to some seeking immediate medical attention.

Understanding that derealization is a symptom of the body’s protective response can help individuals rationalize their experiences. It is crucial to recognize that derealization is not indicative of a separate, more severe condition but rather a manifestation of the body’s response to perceived danger.

Grounding Techniques for Panic Attacks:

Grounding techniques are vital in regaining control during a panic attack and alleviating the unsettling feelings associated with derealization. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. **Deep Breathing:** Focus on slow, deliberate breaths to regulate oxygen flow and calm the sympathetic nervous system. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
  2. **Mindfulness Meditation:** Engaging in mindfulness practices helps redirect attention away from anxious thoughts. Concentrating on the present moment through meditation can interrupt the cycle of panic.
  3.  **5-4-3-2-1 Technique:** This grounding exercise involves acknowledging five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This sensory-focused approach helps reconnect with the immediate environment.
  4. **Progressive Muscle Relaxation:** Systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups promotes physical and mental relaxation. This technique helps counteract the muscle tension often associated with panic attacks.
  5. **Naming:** This exercise attempts to bring you back into the present by having you identify objects in the room that start with a specific letter or have a specific color. For example, finding all the things around you that are green or looking for things around you that start with the letter “L”.

Panic attacks, while distressing, can be managed through a combination of understanding the body’s response, acknowledging the phenomenon of derealization, and implementing grounding techniques. By using these strategies, individuals can empower themselves to navigate panic attacks, gradually diminishing their frequency and intensity. Seeking professional support and incorporating these coping mechanisms can lead to a more balanced and resilient mental well-being. Remember, you are not alone, and there is help available for those navigating the challenges of panic attacks.

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Navigating panic attacks can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Panic attacks do not define you, and there is hope for improvement. It’s essential to recognize the symptoms, practice coping mechanisms, and work on finding solid ground. Remember to take care of yourself, speak to a therapist if needed, and practice mindfulness and exercise regularly. Don’t be afraid to seek help and be gentle with yourself throughout the process. At Hanson Complete Counseling our experienced therapists are here to help you work through and heal panic and high anxiety in your life. Call Us Now to get started!

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