Panic Attacks : Some Information and Guidance
A panic attack can be a violent experience and although this statement may appear as an exaggeration a panic attack is indeed as violent as it is frightening.
During a panic attack the thought of imminent danger is overwhelming. Each episode may last for about ten minutes but in some cases it can last longer. Often those who experience a panic attack for the first time think they are either having a heart attack, losing their sanity or feel they are about to die.
A panic attack can also occur without warning which makes the experience even more frightening. The reason is because the person does not know why or what caused their attack. This is also why those who suffer with panic attacks often develop an extreme fear of going back to the places or surroundings where they have experienced attacks before. It could happen again!
Unfortunately no matter how hard a person will try to avoid going to these ‘panic’ places, the feelings of anxiety and dread of one happening again lingers in their mind. Everywhere they go and whatever they do, they carry a fear that the panic attack may occur anytime without a warning. In fact, a panic attack may even occur while a person is sleeping.
During a panic attack, an individual may experience many symptoms such as tingling or numbness of the hands, nausea and chest pain. Being afraid of one’s own physical symptoms is another sign of having a panic disorder.
Coping With Panic Attacks
- Be rational. Remember that feelings of panic are normal, physical reactions that are exaggerated. They are harmless, nothing worse will happen.
- Stay with the present. Notice what is happening in your body. Slow yourself down and focus on the word “calm”- but keep going. Relax your muscles and drop your shoulders back so you can breathe deeply.
- Only now matters. Don’t think about what might happen.
- Accept the feelings and the attack will be over quickly.
- Measure your anxiety. Grade your anxiety from 10 (high) to 1 (low). Then watch your anxiety go down.
- Stay in the situation. If you run away or avoid, the situation will be more difficult next time.
- Take slow, deep breaths. Concentrate on breathing out.
- Distract yourself. Study your surroundings in great detail or talk to a close friend about what you are feeling.
- Concentrate. As the feelings gradually subside, think again about what you were doing before the onset of the attack.
Some people may experience the start of a panic disorder during adolescence while others begin during early adulthood. The average age of onset of a panic disorder is approximately 25 years; however, it is possible to develop panic attacks later in life. A panic disorder is also more common in women than in men.
Young children may experience separation anxiety which can lead to anxiety attacks, rather than a panic attack.
It is important to keep in mind that not everybody who experiences a panic attack will develop a panic disorder. Studies have revealed that some people only have one attack and never experience another.
On the other hand, some individuals do develop a panic disorder after just one panic attack. Those who are born into families with parents or siblings that have a panic disorder will be more likely to have the same condition too.
It is important to seek help as failure to seek immediate treatment may lead an individual to develop an avoidance of many places and situations associated with anxiety and panic attacks. For example, those who experienced a panic attack inside an elevator may be at risk of developing a fear of elevators and find they avoid them for the rest of their life or until their problem is treated.
People who have experienced full-blown and recurring panic attacks may have difficulty leading a normal life. These attacks can have huge negative impacts on a person’s productivity which may also lead to them having difficulty securing a decent job and keeping healthy relationships. Their whole life can be affected.
Panic Attack and Associated Health Problems
A panic disorder increases a person’s likelihood to have problems with alcoholism, drug abuse and chronic depression. Symptoms of depression may include feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness, loss of appetite, lack of energy, inability to concentrate and difficulty sleeping. When seeking treatment, each of these symptoms may need to be treated separately, as well as working towards overcoming the underlying condition.
Panic disorder and panic attacks have far reaching effects on a person’s life. There are traditional and natural treatments and therapies available to help alleviate symptoms and help a person to cope with their disorder.
Common Treatments for Panic Attacks
One of the ironies of panic attacks is the feeling that you are alone, or that you will embarrass yourself if you try to seek help or even go into public. But it’s vital to get some sort of treatment so that the fear does not completely debilitate you. The good news is that panic attacks are treatable, and tend to respond well to treatment. Here are some of the more common treatments for this terrifying problem.
While most therapists and doctors do not look at medication as a long-term solution, it is often employed in order to help the patient get a handle on the situation and seek help. It may be that a patient needs medication in order to seek out and benefit from non-medicated treatments.
Some of the medications used to treat panic attacks are:
These medications are helpful if you are in the middle of a panic attack, often bringing relief from the symptoms quickly.
These are anti-depressants, and are meant to treat the overall frequency of panic attacks. These medications can also reduce the severity of the panic attacks. They are not used to alleviate symptoms right away.
Panic attacks do respond to various forms of non-medicated therapies.
Here are some of the more effective, common ones.
Behavioural therapy can have different facets depending on the nature of the panic attacks. Basically, if this kind of therapy helps the patient “unlearn” certain destructive behaviour patterns while learning constructive ones. Behavioural therapists help the patient directly address his or her fears. Otherwise, the patient tends to spend all of his or her time avoiding possible panic attack triggers.
This is an aspect of behavioural therapy that involves the systematic exposure to whatever the patient fears until the patient can face that fear.
For example, if you have a paralysing fear of flying in an airplane, the therapist may begin with having you simply walk up to a parked airplane. You may even be asked to touch the airplane. That will be all for the first session, or even the first few sessions.
Then, as you build confidence, the therapist may ask you to take a step or two up to the steps to the door of the airplane. Then you can work up to being inside the airplane without it moving. Slowly, in incremental steps, you will be able to “unlearn” the fear response and re-learn a calm response to flying in airplanes.
Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, and other stretching type of exercises can help the body relax. The calm, deliberate, disciplined movements are the opposite of the chaotic muscle contractions of a panic attack, and help your body learn how to have calm, peaceful, physical responses. The exercise itself in these techniques also helps panic attack sufferers.
Meditation can be practiced independently of the above techniques or in conjunction with them. Once again, the measured, calm, focussed thought processes emphasized in meditation can help you learn how to cope with everyday stressors.