First, let’s look at what causes panic attacks, as well as ways to manage and even prevent them. We’ll also look at the various elements of panic because, in order to overcome a panic attack, you’ll need to understand how they happen.
What is a panic attack or panic disorder?
We’ve all had feelings of anxiety – it’s a feeling of unease ranging from mild to severe and can include feelings of worry and fear. The most severe form of anxiety is panic.
We have panic attacks and panic disorder; one episode is a panic attack and panic disorder is when you experience regular and subsequent attacks. It’s a common yet very misunderstood illness and lots of people with this disorder won’t ever seek help due to fear and stigma.
Panic disorder presents with feelings of panic, stress, fear and anxiety. The attacks occur often and at any time, seemingly for no apparent reason. It feels like a sudden, unexpected rush of intense fear and anxiety along with a flood of frightening thoughts and physical sensations – so, panic attacks are not merely psychological. People who’ve never experienced a panic one can’t understand how terrifying they are.
What you should know about panic
- It can be difficult even for professionals to assess, as lots of the symptoms are similar to some physical illnesses i.e. heart attack or over-active thyroid
- It’s a chronic condition and can lead to changes in behaviour, distress and social dysfunction
- People dread the onset of another attack, and the fear of having a panic attack is just as debilitating for them as the attacks themselves
- Panic disorder knows no boundaries as it affects people of all socio-economic groups and races, and it’s more common in women than men. It can also affect children and the elderly
- Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, they can run in families. However, most attacks can be triggered by stressful life events but can also occur ‘out of the blue’
- An important and interesting note – anti- malaria medication, cold and flu medications, appetite suppressants and even too much caffeine can trigger panic attacks in some people
You might begin to avoid events or situations because you’re afraid of another attack. However, avoidance can create a cycle of living in “fear of the fear”, which adds to your sense of panic and that can cause you to have more panic attacks, leading to diagnosis of panic disorder
What are the symptoms of Panic?
If we encounter a situation that threatens our safety, we’ll experience a series of reactions known as the ‘fight or flight’ response – triggered by the release of chemicals that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to flee to safety.
During a panic attack, an individual will experience similar symptoms, even when there’s no real threat involved. A panic attack might happen in response to situations that others find harmless. Symptoms include physical and physiological symptoms:
- Racing heartbeat
- Dizziness, light-headedness or nausea
- Difficulty breathing, like you can’t get enough air
- Dry mouth and unable to swallow – if you do need fluids, just take smalls sips to avoid choking
- Shaking, trembling
- Sweating and hot flushes or sudden chills
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Sudden need to go to the toilet, the body needs to lighten for the fight or flight
- Your face, feet and hands might go white
- Chest pains – you might think you’re having a heart attack – one way to tell is – if your fingers and toes are tingling, you’re more likely to be having a panic attack. However, if you’re afraid always dial 999 to check
and feelings of:
- You’re going mad or crazy
- Being out of physical or emotional control
- Unreality/detachment from yourself or your surroundings
- Heightened sound and visual awareness, and hypervigilance (for flight or fight, you need to hear and see clearly and be vigilant)
A panic attack generally lasts between 4 – 20 minutes, although it often feels a lot longer. However, they have been known to last an hour. Unfortunately, if left untreated, panic can have severe consequences like alcohol abuse, drug abuse and up to 20% of people with panic disorder attempt to commit suicide.
What to do if you’re having a panic attack
- Breathe as slowly and deeply as possible, exhaling first – slowly for a count of 8-10 seconds
- Recognise that this is a panic attack and tell yourself that this will pass
- Try to get to a quiet space and sit down if necessary
- If you’re at work or outside, ask for help, I know this might feel a little embarrassing but ask if you need to
- Count backwards slowly from 100 or
- Exhale and breathe slowly, as above – look around for 5 things that you can see and name them out loud i.e. “I can see a truck,” etc. You can go onto things you can hear, smell, taste or touch in the same way – until the panic subsides. This technique will help you stay in the present by using your five senses
- Use muscle relaxation techniques – try slumping your shoulders, letting them drop down from your ears, give your jaw a little wiggle then let it relax, uncross your legs, unclench your fists and lay the palms of your hands lightly on your thighs (your body cannot be relaxed and tensed at the same time)
- Put a few drops of lavender (known to ease anxiety) on a tissue, exhale then breathe it in slowly
- Dial 999 if the symptoms continue or get worse
What to do if someone else is having a panic attack
- Ask the person if they’ve had a panic attack before, and what they think might help them or has helped them in the past
- Encourage them (or tell them quite firmly if they’re confused and unable to follow directions) to breathe (as above). Do this with them if necessary, as often they think they can’t breathe and won’t be able to do this alone
- Follow the above steps and call 999 if necessary
Treatment for Panic attacks
- Treatment aims to reduce the number of panic attacks you have and ease your symptoms
- Psychological (talking) therapies and medicine are the main treatments for panic disorder
- Depending on your symptoms, you may need 1 of these treatments or a combination of both
When to get help
- See a GP if you have been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder
- Although it can sometimes be difficult to talk to someone else about your emotions, feelings and personal life, try not to feel embarrassed or anxious.
This is a guest post from Carol at : https://