How to Overcome a Panic Attack, According To a Psychologist

Why you should get to know the "lean in" method.

Image by 101cats/ Getty Images

Anxiety is a strange feeling. Your pulse races, your palms are sweaty, and you can’t let go of your worries — and you might not have an explanation.

Some people experience panic attacks, which are a sudden strong rush of intense mental and physical symptoms, which can come on very quickly and for no apparent reason.

The most popular theory for why our bodies do this is that it’s a response to danger. At some point in our evolution, we developed the adrenaline response to defend ourselves or run away.

“Once upon a time I believe [anxiety] served us well, when we were faced with a predator, or in a life or death situation,” psychologist Amy Morin told Business Insider in a previous article.

“The body’s natural reaction, the fight or flight response, tells you you need to do something because you’re in danger, but I think in our modern world, even when we aren’t in danger, you might get that same reaction like it’s a life or death situation.”

Because it’s an inherent thing, you might not be able to prevent a panic attack happening. But according to psychologist Arash Emamzadeh in a blog post for Psychology Today, our bodies fool us time and time again. Regardless, there is a technique you can try to diminish the reaction.

You need to behave in a way that is inconsistent with fear and a focus on harm, he wrote. Rather than being scared, you should examine the fearful feelings with interest, curiosity, and engagement. The first step is called “leaning in.”

“Leaning in, of course, does not mean you have to enjoy panic attacks,” Emamzadeh said. “Nor is it the equivalent of jumping into fear (and thus losing all control); you remain grounded (i.e. oriented to the here and now) while leaning in.”

He gave the example of a scientist experiencing lightning for the first time. Although it was loud, bright, and scary, a scientist might measure how long the blasts last for, and the breaks in between. She may write down the colour and shape of the strikes, and write down any other observations she saw.

By leaning in to the experience, the scientist remains grounded, Emamzadeh said, “or else she would be overwhelmed by fear and confusion.”

“We need to adopt this same attitude, when we find ourselves caught up in our inner storms,” he said.

To attempt to observe a panic attack in a similar objective way, you can ask yourself questions such as: “What am I feeling right now?”, “What am I sensing in my body?”, and “How am I interpreting these feelings and sensations?”

You may also need to look around you to become aware of your environment, who’s there, and what’s happening to stay grounded. Then you can observe and report on what you see, and you should be as detailed as possible Emamzadeh said.

“If you do this frequently enough, intense fear will begin to lose its hold on you, and panic attacks will become less intense and easier to manage,” he said.

Originally published on www.businessinsider.com

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