If you feel like you’re choking, can’t breathe, you’re sweating, crying, gasping for air. You’re out in public, surrounded by people who can see you and hear you, but you just want to disappear, you may think you are having a heart attack or stroke or you will go crazy or lose control of yourself. It is important to know that the feelings are not permanent. You will not die, nor will you go crazy.
Chances are that you’re having a panic attack. These can be extremely frightening and can come in many forms and can be so intense that they can paralyse you.
When we hear the word “panic attack” we instantly think of an anxiety condition that makes a person feel like they are going to have a heart attack, lose control, and pass out. Research indicates that panic attacks are extremely confusing and complicated to deal with, especially if you don’t know what one is.
A panic attack is a sudden outbreak of intense fear that sets off serious physical responses where there are no real hazards or apparent causes. When you have a panic attack, it triggers your “fight or flight” response, which is the way your body responds when your physical security is at risk. You get an adrenaline rush that excites you so you can make a split-second decision to either run or fight. This response is not destined to last very long and usually runs out quickly. As a result, panic attacks that last longer are not very frequent.
It’s hard to know how to cope with panic attacks, especially because there is so much information out there that doesn’t seem to agree on the best way to handle them.
Here’s what you need to know about panic attacks, what they are and how to get them under control.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
The symptoms of a panic attack usually occur suddenly and peak within 10 minutes. They can include: palpitations, sweating, trembling, sensations of shortness of breath or smothering, a feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, dizziness, a fear of losing control or going crazy, a fear of dying, paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations), chills or hot flashes, fatigue, numbness or tingling, feeling unreal (De-realization) or detached from oneself (depersonalize).
Symptoms of panic disorder usually begin in the late teens or early adulthood and impact more women than men.
The causes that may increase the risk of developing panic attacks include:
- Family record of panic attacks or panic disorder
- Major life stress, such as the loss or critical illness of a loved one
- A traumatic incident, such as sexual assault or a severe accident
- Major changes in your life, such as a divorce or the birth of a baby
- Smoking or excessive caffeine intake
- History of childhood physical or sexual abuse
How long do panic attacks last?
A panic attack is a sudden period of intense fear that comes on suddenly, sometimes without warning. It can last for a few minutes or go on for hours. It generally lasts for about 5 to 20 minutes although repeated attacks can recur for hours. The number of attacks you might have generally depends on the severity of your condition. Some people have these once or twice a month however, others may have them several times a week.
Are panic attacks dangerous?
During a panic attack, you may start to worry about when your next attack will happen, or you may worry about how you will escape or get help, you may also worry about the possibility of having a panic attack in a public place where you are embarrassed or humiliated, your heart pounds, you may feel like you can’t breathe, and you may have nightmares or flashbacks but it’s important to know that a panic attack cannot kill you directly. It is frightening but it is not fatal. An attack will do you no physical harm, and you are unlikely to be hospitalized if you have one.
How can one deal with a Panic Attack?
The very first and foremost thing you should do is to deal with the symptoms of your panic attack. This means that you should try to start breathing normally and try to get into a comfortable position so that your body can relax.
During a panic attack,
a person can try the following:
Overcome the attack: Instead of trying to get away from the situation, carry on with what you are doing and do not look for distractions.
- Try not to fight feelings of fear: Trying to avoid anxiety can develop anxiety, which only verges to deteriorate a panic attack. Instead, you should aim to recognize and acknowledge your feelings without judgement.
- Try to stay conscious of the present moment: Being mindful can offer an easy distraction from anxiety and panic.
- Breathe gradually and deeply: Sometimes during a panic attack, individuals tend to gasp which reduces levels of CO2 in the blood, resulting in the heart racing faster. This series can result in dizziness or fainting. Breathing slowly and deeply can compensate for these effects.
What are some long term solutions?
If left untreated, panic attacks can result in quite a few problems in your life so here’s how you can overcome and treat your panic attacks in the long run:-
- Seek counselling/ therapy
(Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, etc. )
- Take medication
- Try deep breathing
- Practice mindfulness
- Step out and exercise
- Use muscle relaxation techniques
- Acknowledge that you’re having an attack
- Block things out if they disturb your mental peace
- Find a focus object
- Characterize your happy place
- Keep lavender handy (it helps reduce stress and relax)
- Practice affirming yourself positively regularly
- Join a support group
- Focus on maintaining healthier eating and sleeping habits
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs (they trigger/ worsen it)
How to cope with Panic attacks at night?
Waking up and realizing that you are having a panic attack can be a very overwhelming and frightening experience, here are a few ways to overcome it:
- Accept the panic attack and don’t be afraid to feel things
- Try and relax
- Get up and do something
- Go back to bed only when you’re ready
Can one prevent Panic attacks?
You don’t need to live your life worrying about panic attacks. There are a number of tools and techniques that can be used to handle and prevent your attacks.
A great way to prevent panic attacks is to come up with a plan that will make you feel better about yourself and more in control. If you have a plan worked out for when an attack comes on, you can potentially shorten the duration and frequency of attacks or prevent them,
Your plan might include:
- Practice breathing exercises or doing progressive muscle relaxation
- Eat a healthy diet
- Cut back on caffeine
- Manage stress
- Focus on grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 technique
- Regular physical exercises
- Read articles/books about panic attacks, to help rationalize the fear of dying
- Make a small list of mantras, saying something like “Everything will fall into place, I am greater than this.”
- Journal your thoughts
What should I do if someone has a panic attack in front of me?
If someone is having a panic attack in front of you, you can help by doing the following:
- Stay with the person and keep calm
- If the person normally takes medicine during an attack, help them get it for themselves.
- Ask the person what they need, DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
- Speak directly and in simple sentences
- Help the person normalize their breath (you can try counting to 10)
Panic attacks are some of the most difficult symptoms to deal with and overcome. If you have ever experienced a panic attack, then you know how terrifying it can be. If you have never experienced a panic attack, then you may be curious as to what it is like. It is important to remember that panic attacks can be very different for each and every individual who suffers from them. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and you should not feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk to your doctor or mental health professional about your panic attacks.