Monthly ArchiveMay 2021

How to Stop a Panic Attack: Four Different Scenarios and Approaches

1.       How to Stop a First-Time Panic Attack

Seek medical attention. Generally speaking, panic attacks pose no immediate threat to your physical well-being. Recurring attacks will eventually take their toll and poor decision-making can lead to physical injury, but panic alone is not life-threatening. That said, there’s another reason to seek medical attention for stopping a first-time panic attack. The symptoms of an attack may be something more than just panic. Heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, numbness, etc.—well, let’s just say there’s a reason we tell people to talk to a doctor. We’re not saying you necessarily have to rush to the ER at the first hint of symptoms, but if it feels like something’s really wrong, there’s zero reason to feel ashamed later. (Even if some jerk has the misfortune of telling you that it was “just” a panic attack.)

There’s another reason short-term medical care can be helpful. People who have one attack are at a greater risk of developing panic disorder—in which a person has recurring panic attacks that reinforce his or her tendency to panic. Medical attention can reduce the length and severity of the attack and is thus helpful in minimizing the secondary effects that may or may not emerge. If necessary, medication may be prescribed, though the attack may also subside on its own.

2.       How to Stop a Panic Attack on Your Own

Whether you’ve been through a panic attack before and know what you’re up against, or you’re the stubborn type and you simply refuse to seek medical advice, there are things you can do to hopefully stop a panic attack on your own. First, find a safe place. Or at least a place that feels safer than the one you’re in now. In other words, whether you’re having a panic attack during a concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle or at a family dinner with the in-laws, remove yourself, at least temporarily, from the situation. Be polite if you can. But get out of there.

A combination of environmental and physical exercise can help mitigate the severity and length of an attack. Once you’ve done the best you can to remove any personal, environmental stressors, start paying attention to your breathing. Or more precisely, bring your attention to the individual breaths that you’re taking. Find a way to mark each breath. You can count them if you prefer, but we recommend using a simple, repeatable phrase that you decide on beforehand. One breath in, one breath out. Or it could be a personal mantra of some kind that you make up on your own.

With time, your breathing and heart rate will gradually slow down, and the attack will subside. Now, if it doesn’t work right away—and it probably won’t—you’re liable to start panicking about not being able to stop panicking. That’s okay. Allow yourself a moment to panic and then start again. One breath in, one breath out.

3.       How to Stop Someone Else’s Panic Attack

Personal insight can be invaluable in coping with panic in the long term, but it’s rare that comforting thoughts alone will stop an attack. Know that it’s difficult-to-impossible for anyone to stay rational in the midst of a panic attack. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer someone comforting words. Just know that you can’t argue away a panic attack.

Instead, do your best to show patience and to give unconditional support to your friend, intimate partner, or family member. The person may be inconsolable at first, but once they start looking to you for help, there is something you can do. Try to do with the breathing exercise together. Or, instead of having the person focus on their own breath, have them focus on yours instead. Slowly, try to match the pace of your breathing to the same rhythm. And, again, if there’s any doubt, have the person seek medical care.

4.       How to Stop a Panic Attack from Coming Back

In the most severe cases, prescription medications may be warranted in the short-term to manage the most acute symptoms. Talk to your doctor, but we also recommend you pay extra attention to the potential for long-term abuse. Have that conversation with your physician from the beginning.

Then, start looking for a therapist who makes sense personally, financially, and geographically. There are all kinds of cognitive and behavioral therapies that can help. Some of them are as straightforward as empathetic listening. Some of them—emdr techniques, for example—sound a little strange and, yet, can be strangely effective. Therapy can reliably deliver at least partial relief from symptoms in the short-term, but studies have shown it makes a big difference in the long run, too.

The Connection between Statistics, Baseball and Mental Health in Utah

On a gut level, baseball and mental health go together like Christmas and childhood memories. There’s the crack of the ball hitting the bat, the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, and catching a foul ball in the stands or a home run on the lawn of Smith’s Ballpark. There’s bonding with family at a young age or making new friends at any age. You can enjoy the in-game entertainment, or there’s plenty of opportunity to catch your breath and reflect a moment between innings—followed by moments of fleeting, yet structured, drama on the field. There is a set of rules and an ultimate objective, but there is also a sense of endless, undirected fun. And there’s a collective sense of belonging that comes with rooting for the home team.

Mental Health Statistics and the Role of Luck

What many people don’t know is that the study of baseball also contributes to the study of mental health. Whether you’re trying to determine which treatments are most likely to improve mental health or which skills and players are most likely to contribute to a winning team, careful observation, recordkeeping, and statistical analysis is required.

And the truth is that human perception isn’t naturally predisposed to reading and interpreting quantitative data. What looks like random outcomes in an everyday context can add up quickly over time. A 5 percent improvement to a player’s batting average—one extra hit per week—is the difference between an average ballplayer and a Hall-of-Famer. An antidepressant that’s 5 percent more effective than what’s available today can be hard to detect in clinical studies, but it could also mean a more stable mood and higher resilience for tens of thousands of Utah residents.

The same science and math skills are used to answer questions across many different types of human activity, baseball and mental included:

  • Does a player’s horrible batting performance in May indicate a lack of focus, a string of bad luck, or an inability to adapt to new defensive strategies?

 

  • Does an antidepressant drug that makes 65 percent of patients feel better owe its success to a better chemical formula and molecular structure, selection bias in finding patients for the study, or heightened placebo effects that come from oral medications and doctors in lab coats?

 

  • And sometimes the link between baseball and mental health is a direct one: Is a pitcher who was struck in the head by a line drive 3 months struggling to throw strikes because there are lingering effects of a brain injury, a newly formed fear of getting hit in the head, or simply because it’s taking a little longer than expected to regain his previous form?

Emerging Realities and Incomplete Data

In baseball as well as mental health, early detection and intervention are crucial. Recognizing before any other team that a young second baseman with stellar defensive skills is also going to fill out and develop into a power hitter in a few years is the kind of thing that sets the most successful teams apart. Likewise, getting an accurate diagnosis for autism, bipolar, or schizophrenia twelve or even six months earlier can have a substantial impact for treatment and long-term mental health outcomes.

Years of recruitment and development—not to mention diligent practice routines—go into assembling the baseball team that we as Salt Lake Bees fans go to see. Likewise, there is a complex tapestry of environmental and genetic causes that go into the presentation of most mental disorders. And yet, from one day to another, dumb luck creates unpredictable outcomes for what happens on the baseball diamond and what happens to an individual’s development and mental health.

Development of Skills across Industries

You might be thinking that this is a neat idea, but does baseball really contribute to mental health in any material way? We think it does. In fact, people often underestimate the ways in which professional skills that are developed by one organization or industry tend to bleed into other applications. And baseball and statistics are far from the only crossover.

Take the VA system, for example. Due to an inability to process veterans’ claims, track and report patient wait times, and generally provide a reasonable access to health services, there have been calls to privatize the VA system. (Other policymakers are instead pushing to revamp and better fund the VA system.) But smart, experienced people who have looked at the issue point out that one of the things that make privatization impractical is the VA’s role in training mental health professionals.

Many of the doctors and psychologists who treat head injuries in Utah due to car collisions, organized sports, occupational hazards, and canyoneering—many of these professionals received their education and early career training in the VA system. And while the private health care system could possibly accommodate more patients in the short-term—for a price—it doesn’t have the infrastructure or track record when it comes to replacing these professional training programs.

The Statistics We’re Trying to Change

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 44 percent of adults know little to nothing about  mental illness and 31 percent of adults say a fear of being judged by others would stop them from seeking mental health treatment. Try as we might, the goal of a completely informed and destigmatized society is not realistic. But even making a small difference—one more person, one more mental health insight, one more therapy session per week—will eventually lead to a large, positive impact. Improve your own mental health tools by talking with a mental health provider in Utah.