Whether you have experienced panic attacks in the past, or whether this is something new, it is absolutely normal to have such a reaction to a difficult situation such as the Coronavirus. With news updates from around the globe every 5 minutes, and real-life people sharing their experiences on social media, it is very easy to trigger panic. A panic attack is an intense feeling of fear that is normally accompanied by symptoms such as increased heart rate or palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating and shivers among others. Repeated panic attacks can be a symptom of a mental disorder such as Panic Disorder, but it can also be a response to a triggering event such as the COVID-19.

5 tips on how to stop a panic attack:

  1. Breathe – rapid breathing can enhance the tension in the body, therefore taking long and deep breaths will help to calm you down. Count to four when breathing, and breath into the abdomen, filling up your chest and stomach. Soon after your heart-rate will start to slow down.
  2. Ground Yourself – panic can make us feel like we are not grounded. Sitting down is a simple way that helps with making us feel more secure and stable. Once sitting down it is helpful to get your mind to focus on something specific in order to ground yourself further. You can focus on looking at all the things around you in your favourite colour, or you can count back from 100 in 3s, or you can recite a list of your favourite TV shows. Keeping your mind occupied for this time helps to calm the mind from any negative thoughts which in turn calms the body down.
  3. Muscle Relaxation Techniques – when experiencing a panic attack your muscles tend to tighten up. In order to relieve this tension you can use progressive muscle relaxation techniques by scanning your body from head to toe, and taking the time to tense and then release every part of your body in sequence. This helps us to regain control of our body and consciously release any tension in our body. You can also download an app or listen to a clip on youtube; luckily we are in the 21st century with a lot of resources at a few clicks away.
  4. Light Exercise – once you have caught your breath, you can also do some light exercise, like yoga, a light home work-out or going for a walk. Exercise helps our body release endorphins, the body’s natural happy chemicals, that decrease our stress. Exercise in general also helps us to focus on a set task, and therefore for that time, your mind can be free from other potentially negative thoughts.
  5. Learn your triggers – a final tip is to reflect on what is triggering you; if you are experiencing a lot of anxiety around the topic of Coronavirus, stay off social media as much as possible, unfollow any groups sharing only negative information, and turn off the TV. While you cannot avoid incoming information all the time, at least you can limit it, especially while you are feeling panicked.

If you are experiencing panic attacks regularly and you are feeling unable to cope, you can also seek professional help. There are various professionals that are also offering help via online platforms such as Skype, in order to make sure you are supported even if you are quarantined.

1 in every 13 people struggle with anxiety on a general basis worldwide, let alone during such a difficult time, so you are not alone and should not be afraid to seek help!

Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (2020). Retrieved 15 March 2020, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Nicola Falzon is a psychology officer within the Willingness Team, delivering training and workshops on mental health, managing different services such as Sex Clinic Malta, and organising different events. Nicola is also involved in various projects related to sexuality.