“Anxiety attacks” can range in severity levels for individuals who struggle with them. One of the most commonly reported fears surrounding anxiety attacks is struggling with one in public. An important component of managing an anxiety attack in public is being aware of what to look for. There are mild or low-level anxiety attacks, which can include anxiety surrounding new social settings, environments or traveling alone. These tend to stem from situational worries and can more easily be managed, symptoms may include intrusive or racing thoughts or physiological symptoms such as sweaty palms. On the other hand, a panic attack differs from an anxiety attack, though they can feel similarly. Panic attacks typically begin and end relatively quickly and on average last minutes. Panic attacks may seemingly occur out of no where whereas an anxiety attack generally has a build up, typically where anxiety has reached a “peak” after an individual has experienced anxiety over a few days and it may take a few more days for the anxiety to subside. The most common symptoms of a panic attack include:

Strategies to Manage a Panic Attack in Public

Heart palpitations: this may feel like quick or irregular heart beat, people have commonly reported almost “feeling like having heart attack”

Dizziness, sweating, or trembling: physiologically, these symptoms will feel really intense similar to as if you have just finished a workout  

Difficulty breathing: this can feel like tightness in your chest making it hard to catch a breathe or breathe normally 

Panic: this may include intense racing thoughts, a commonly reported thought is feeling like the attack will last forever 

Confusion/overwhelm: you may not be able to think straight, your body is preparing you to go into fight or flight, a trauma response 

4 Strategies: 

  1. Identify the Signs of an Oncoming Panic Attack 

Mentally scan your body and notice any changes in body sensations or symptoms. Is there another reason why you are feeling disoriented, or your heart rate is elevated? Maybe you just finished a brisk walk to the office? If it is difficult to identify, that could be a sign of an oncoming panic attack. When you know that a panic attack is oncoming, it can be helpful to notice the sensations in your body and thoughts in a non judgmental way, start to rate your anxiety or distress level on a scale of 1-10. By recognizing your thoughts and body sensations in a curious but non-judgemental way, you can help mitigate the impact of a panic attack.

  1. Find a Safe Spot 

Being around a lot of people can feel overwhelming, so try to get yourself into an area with less people that feels safer to you. This may include a bathroom at your workplace or a vacant meeting room. 

  1. Distract Yourself! 

Distracting yourself away from the physical sensations can help you ground or “center” yourself. Since panic attacks only last a couple of minutes, distracting yourself can be helpful to decrease the effects of a panic attack on your mental well-being. Use your 5 senses to distract yourself, this may include touch: using a tactile grounder, if you have a stress ball or if you rinse your hands under cold water and noticing those sensations, these can be two helpful tactile methods for grounding. Smell: Carry an essential oil or perfume with you. Sight: Engage your sight! Look around you and notice any red objects you see, then orange, run through the colors of the rainbow OR try putting on a funny show on your phone. Sound: If you have headphones, try listening to some of your favorite music, notice the lyrics. Taste: Have a snack with you, eat it and notice the texture and taste of the snack. 

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