How To Cope With Panic Attacks
When you have had a panic attack, you might worry about if – or when – you are next going to have one. This can make everyday tasks like going to school, leaving the house or meeting up with friends much more difficult. But remember, you are not alone and there is support available to help you get through this. If you are worried about when you are next going to have a panic attack, here are some things that can help you cope.
Speak to someone you trust. If you are feeling anxious or worried that you might have a panic attack, talk to friends or family. They can help you take your mind off what is making you feel panicked and support you to find the help you need. If you are struggling to say how you are feeling, you can always write your thoughts down or put them in notes on your phone if you are planning to speak to a teacher or your GP.
If you are worried about having a panic attack at school, college, or university, speak to a teacher or a member of staff. They can work with you to help you with things like finding a safe space to take some time out if you are feeling anxious or panicked.
If you feel like youre struggling to cope with everyday tasks, speak to your GP. They can listen to how you are feeling and suggest different types of treatments like therapy or counselling to help you tackle your panic attacks.
Stress Anxiety And Then Panic: Neal’s Story
As Sideman says, his attack occurred in the early 1990s, and few people seriously considered the possibility of a panic attack in a 39-year-old man. So he went home thinking all would be fine, only to have another, more severe attack one week later.
Now, looking back, the situation seems clearer.
I was under a lot of stress starting a new business, working 16-hour days, a close friend was ill and dying, and on top of all that, I was doing a super heavy workout regimen at the gym with a trainer,” Sideman says. “So it was a lot of physical stress, emotional stress, and a lot of financial stresses.” He says he also can see roots of anxiety in his childhood and teen years as well as in other family members.
In the moment, he didnt know what to think because it can be tough to know what a panic attack is like until you have one. His second panic attack was really a full-blown panic attack, where I thought I was going to die,” Sideman says. “I thought I was going to pass out, not wake up, go crazy, have a heart attack.”
He recalled being terrified, and the response he chose was one that can actually make panic disorder worse: He started to avoid the situations where he had attacks.
Find Out What It Feels Like To Have A Panic Attack
People who suffer from panic attacks confess that while they may know they are not in any real danger, their bodies and minds tell them otherwise. I am absolutely terrified, and I feel like Im reduced to a childlike state, one woman says. Throughout the years, Ive looked for a clear explanation of what others have experienced within their own panic attacks to better understand them myself, Nicole Martin writes in a recent article for TheMighty.com. Yet with every explanation I read, I would only get a list of symptoms and no personal expression. Id just get lists- hyperventilating, sweating, fear overwhelming them. Although these are valuable examples, I was looking for something more in-depth. So I decided to write about my own experience within my attacks.
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
If you have panic attacks, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- Why am I having panic attacks?
- What is the best treatment for panic attacks?
- How long will I need therapy?
- How long do I need to take medications?
- Should I look out for medication side effects?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Panic attacks can be extremely uncomfortable. Although theyre not physically harmful, they can take a toll on your mental health and stop you from doing the things you love. Dont be embarrassed to tell your healthcare provider that you have panic attacks. Your provider can help you overcome fears and anxieties that trigger attacks. You can get better with treatments like psychotherapy and medications.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/12/2020.
Tips For Helping Someone With An Anxiety Disorder:
- Make no assumptionsask the person what they need.
- Be predictabledon’t surprise the person.
- Let the person with the disorder set the pace for recovery.
- Find something positive in every small step towards recovery.
- Don’t help the person avoid their fears.
- Maintain your own life so you don’t resent the person with the disorder.
- Don’t panic when the person with the disorder panics, but realize it’s natural to be concerned with them.
- Be patient and accepting, but don’t settle for the affected person being permanently disabled.
- Say encouraging words such as: “You can do it no matter how you feel. I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe slow and low. Stay in the present. It’s not the place that’s bothering you, it’s the thought. I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous. You are courageous.”
- Avoid saying things like: “Don’t be anxious. Let’s see if you can do this. You can fight this. What should we do next? Don’t be ridculous. You have to stay. Don’t be a coward.” These phrases tend to blame the individual for the anxiety.
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How Is Panic Disorder Treated
First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam and ask you about your health history to make sure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. Your doctor may refer to you a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
Psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful as a first-line treatment for panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack. The attacks can begin to disappear once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear that occur during panic attacks.
For more information on psychotherapy, see .
Medication. Doctors also may prescribe different types of medications to help treat panic disorder:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
Another type of medication called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as rapid heart rate. Although doctors do not commonly prescribe beta-blockers for panic disorder, they may be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.
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Behavioral Symptoms Of Severe Anxiety
Behavioral symptoms of severe anxiety often take the form of avoidance. Because severe anxiety symptoms are so terrifying, people will do almost anything to avoid feeling them. This might include:
- Not going to specific places
- Not seeing certain people
- Not having specific experiences
These severe symptoms of anxiety can even escalate until the person refuses to leave the house or talk to most people.
Other severe behavioral symptoms of anxiety include those seen in obsessive-compulsive disorder . People with OCD become obsessed with ideas such as:2
Once an obsession takes hold, the person feels an overwhelming urge to perform an action, a compulsion, also known as a ritual. Examples of severe compulsions include:
- Washing of hands until the skin is raw
- Picking of skin and hair around the face until there are open wounds
- Being unable to leave the house due to repeated checking of things related to safety such as turning off the stove
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Why Do Panic Attacks Happen
In the grand scheme of things, panic attacks happen because the brain is built to err on the side of dangerto perceive trouble even where it doesnt existas a kind of insurance policy on your life. But panic attacks are complex, involving many systems of the brain and the body, and scientists devote considerable attention to figuring out why panic attacks occur. All that can be said for sure is that something goes wrong in brain circuits of normal cross-talk between the emotional output center of the amygdala and the cognitive processing and regulation center of the prefrontal cortex. Overwhelmed, the prefrontal cortex does not realize that the threat is not real. The stress response system, which jumps in as if the perceived danger were real, creating so many of the unpleasant physical sensations, can magnify the problem by having an unusually low threshold for response, often a result early adverse experience.
What Is A Panic Attack
Panic attacks come on suddenly and involve intense and often overwhelming fear. Theyre accompanied by very challenging physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or nausea.
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognizes panic attacks and categorizes them as unexpected or expected.
Unexpected panic attacks occur without an obvious cause. Expected panic attacks are cued by external stressors, such as phobias.
Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but having more than one may be a sign of panic disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
Anxiety is usually related to the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event. It may come on gradually.
The lack of diagnostic recognition of anxiety attacks means that the signs and symptoms are open to interpretation.
That is, a person may describe having an anxiety attack and have symptoms that another person has never experienced despite indicating that they too have had an anxiety attack.
Read on to find out more about the differences between panic attacks and anxiety.
Panic and anxiety attacks may feel similar, and they share a lot of emotional and physical symptoms.
You can experience both an anxiety and a panic attack at the same time.
It may be difficult to know whether what youre experiencing is anxiety or a panic attack. Keep in mind the following:
- a stressful job
- anxiety symptoms
- panic attacks
- panic disorders
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How Can Panic Disorder Affect Day
If you live with panic disorder, you might end up slowly but steadily eliminating all potential panic attack triggers from your life. In time, you could find yourself avoiding any situation that inspires feelings of nervousness or fear, just in case you have another attack.
Here are a few examples of how panic disorder can affect your daily life and routines:
- You dont want to have a panic attack on the road, so you stop driving.
- The thought of having a panic attack on a plane terrifies you, so you stop traveling to see family and friends in your hometown.
- Since you cant get to work without taking public transportation, you quit your job.
- After having a panic attack during class, you feel so nervous about returning to school that you eventually withdraw.
- You struggle to explain to your partner that youre afraid of feeling like youre choking and losing control in public. They dont understand why you cant go out to eat, and this creates tension in your relationship.
- You might try to manage your anxiety with alcohol, only to find it intensifies your feelings.
Panic disorder can sometimes contribute to agoraphobia, or the fear of being in a space you cant easily leave. Eventually, you might begin to feel so anxious you avoid going anywhere at all.
Limiting your activities and social interactions can take a toll on your relationships and emotional health. Isolation can lead to loneliness and depression and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide.
Complications Of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is treatable and you can make a full recovery. But it’s best to get medical help as soon as you can.
If you do not get medical help, panic disorder can escalate and become very difficult to cope with.
You’re more at risk of developing other mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia or other phobias, or an alcohol or drug problem.
Having panic disorder may affect your ability to drive. The law requires you to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about a medical condition that could impact your driving ability.
Visit GOV.UK for further information about driving with a disability or health condition.
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What Helps To Manage Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be frightening, but there are things you can do to help yourself cope. It could help to print off these tips, or write them down, and keep them somewhere easy to find.
During a panic attack:
- Focus on your breathing. It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
- Stamp on the spot. Some people find this helps control their breathing.
- Focus on your senses. For example, taste mint-flavoured sweets or gum, or touch or cuddle something soft.
- Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you feel more in control. They’re especially useful if you experience dissociation during panic attacks. See our page on self-care for dissociation for more information on grounding techniques.
After a panic attack:
- Think about self-care. It’s important to pay attention to what your body needs after you’ve had a panic attack. For example, you might need to rest somewhere quietly, or eat or drink something.
- Tell someone you trust. If you feel able to, it could help to let someone know you’ve had a panic attack. It could be particularly helpful to mention how they might notice if you’re having another one, and how you’d like them to help you.
See our pages on self-care for anxiety and treatments for anxiety for more information on what could help.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder may have:
- Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
- A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
- Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
- An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
- A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
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Anxiety Attack Vs Panic Attack
We often hear the terms anxiety and panic attack used interchangeably. The reality is that the DSM-5 doesnt include anxiety attacks as a diagnosis, but panic attacks are in the guide. Anxiety attacks are more of a symptom of anxiety where you might feel especially overwhelmed, but theyre not the same as a panic attack.
- A panic attack tends to be highly physical due to the symptoms you experience, creating short-term but overwhelming fear.
- Anxiety often associates with known stressors rather than occurring out of the blue.
- Anxiety symptoms can build gradually while the panic has a sudden onset. Someone with a generalized anxiety disorder experiences a nearly constant low-level sense of anxiety affecting their daily life.
- People with anxiety disorders may have a hard time at home, school, or regularly work, even when not facing any directly stressful situations.
- There are subtypes of anxiety disorders like separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. A panic disorder is also sometimes considered a type of anxiety disorder.
You Worry About Having A Panic Attack In Public
Its very normal to want to avoid having panic attacks around other people. Theres a lot of stigma around mental health symptoms in general, so you might worry people wont understand whats happening.
You might believe others will think you just want attention. Maybe you just dont want to feel vulnerable around strangers or in a public place. You might also want to avoid dealing with physical discomfort and emotional distress in front of others.
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What Does It Feel Like When You’re Having A Panic Attack
Well, it can literally feel like you’re about to die. You can have chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness, tingling, and or sweating. That’s why many people who are having panic attacks end up going to the emergency room. Most panic attacks peak over a matter of minutes and they’ll last for less than 30 minutes, but that time or the total duration of the attack can vary. So, panic attacks can actually last from a matter of seconds to hours.
Have You Ever Had A Panic Attack? If So, Please Comment Down Below And Please Share Your Symptoms Of A Panic Attack.
I Get Physically Sick
Lisa, a certified nursing assistant, explains to Bustle her panic attacks tend to present in two different ways: “One of which comes out in anger and stress, and my thoughts race as if I canât grasp one to hang onto. And, I get physically sick,” she says.
She adds that, “I am usually able to identify that Iâm having a panic attack, but I canât seem to get enough air. I start to shut down and cover my face and breathe very quickly. I can hear directions given to me , but I canât seem to process the phrases.”
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