You Can Help Guide Me Through A Panic Attack
The best thing you can do if you see me having a panic attack is to stay calm and talk me through it. When a panic attack strikes, I will feel a combination of overwhelming fear and some of the scary physical symptoms listed above. This is what helps:
Deep breathing: I dont need the paper bag, but it helps if you count my breaths with me. Breathing in for four, holding for four, and releasing for four helps slow my heart rate and decrease the physical symptoms I experience.
Coping statements: Talking back to my irrational thoughts with assertive coping statements helps me work through the attack. Saying, Im not dying, Im feeling anxious, disrupts the irrational thought process.
Distraction: Once Im using my deep breathing, it helps to shift my focus.
Once the panic has passed, I need time to unwind and recover. Taking a walk or simply getting outside can help.
Your loved ones might never truly understand how you feel when you have a panic attack, but educating them helps them better understand what a panic attack is, to look for, and how they can help you when they see you in distress.
Your Heart Rate Increases
The sympathetic nervous system also releases adrenaline into the body when a panic attack sets in. As the American Psychiatric Association points out, this influx of adrenaline can cause the body to experience heart palpitations, an accelerated heartbeat, and chest pain or discomfort. For many, these symptoms may even feel like a heart attack.
Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders:
Anyone may experience these symptoms during stressful times. However, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience them in absence of stress, with more severe symptoms and/or with several symptoms appearing together.
- Inability to relax
- Rapid pulse or pounding, skipping, racing heart
- Nausea, chest pain or pressure
- Feeling a “lump in the throat”
- Feelings of dread, apprehension or losing control
- Trembling or shaking, sweating or chills
- Fainting or dizziness, feelings of detachment
- Thoughts of death
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What Are Some Coping Mechanisms In The Moment
First things first: Breathe. Youre probably hyperventilating, but stabilizing your breathing can quickly calm your bodys fight-or-flight response.
Try counting your breaths. One deep breath in, one deep breath out. Count up to 10 and then start again until your breathing is back to normal.
Other quick coping strategies include:
- recognizing that what youre experiencing is a panic attack
- finding an object to focus on
Chat With A Loved One
Not everyone “gets” panic attacks, but you still might want to reach out to friends and/or family for some moral support. “You dont even need to tell your friend or family member that you just had a panic attack,” Star said. “You may find that simply talking to someone you trust will make you feel better as your panic attack symptoms decrease.” It’s definitely worth a try.
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Always Seek Professional Advice
Always seek medical advice if you are not sure whether your symptoms, or another persons symptoms, indicate a panic attack. In an emergency, dial triple zero for an ambulance. Its important to see your doctor for a check-up to make sure that any recurring physical panic-like symptoms are not due to illnesses, including:
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
This online resource, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration , helps you locate mental health treatment facilities and programs. Find a facility in your state by searching SAMHSAs online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. For additional resources, visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage.
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Myth: Only People Diagnosed With A Mental Illness Experience Panic Attacks
Reality: Anyone can experience a panic attack, even without a diagnosis of mental illness.
That said, some people are more at risk for experiencing multiple panic attacks throughout their life, including people with a family history of panic attacks or history of child abuse or trauma. Someone also has a higher risk if they have diagnoses of:
The Anticipation Of Future Attacks Triggers Me
Due to the sudden and unpredictable nature of panic attacks, it can be difficult to make plans to venture too far from home. Anticipatory anxiety can make ordinary outings, like watching a baseball game, feel overwhelming due to intrusive thoughts about the difficulty of finding an escape route or getting caught in a crowd.
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Why Are We So Exhausted After An Anxiety Attack
Psychotherapist Carol-Anne Cowie describes the post-anxiety fatigue as the natural process of the body following the hyperactivity of a stress response to a perceived danger.
When the fight-or-flight response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline as well as diverting blood from non-essential functions, releasing adrenaline mobilises glucose and energy, inevitably leading to exhaustion and feeling drained.
When we experience panic attacks and anxiety, our brains and our bodies can experience a huge chemical and hormonal shift, taking us out of our typical physiological routines, and introducing new chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol instead. These hormones are fast-acting and intense, providing the physical symptoms of anxiety in rapid succession as our minds react to the imagined threat were facing.
But once the anxiety has passed, our bodies can crash without the high of the stress hormones keeping us active. We feel unable to calm down completely after such a rapid spike, but unable to perk ourselves up either. Our bodies need time to re-regulate, to allow our nervous systems to fall back into their standard patterns, and to help our minds understand that we are safe.
Common symptoms of post-anxiety anxiety:
Myth: Panic Attacks Are An Overreaction And Intentionally Dramatic
Reality: Contrary to stigmatizing beliefs, panic attacks arent something people can control. We dont know exactly what causes panic attacks, but we do know that they can often be triggered by stressful events, mental illness, or unspecified stimuli or changes in the environment.
Panic attacks are uncomfortable, involuntary, and often occur without warning.
Rather than looking for attention, most people who experience panic attacks have a great deal of internalized stigma and shame, and hate having panic attacks in public or around others.
In the past, when I felt close to a panic attack, Id quickly leave a situation or go home as soon as possible in order to avoid feeling embarrassed in public.
Often people would say things to me like Theres nothing to even be upset about! or Cant you just calm down? These things usually upset me more and made it even harder to calm myself.
The best thing you can do for someone having a panic attack is just ask them directly what they need and how you can best support them.
If you know a friend or loved one who often experiences panic attacks, ask them in a calm moment what theyd like from you or those around them if one was to occur.
Often, people have panic attack or crisis plans they can share that outline what helps them to calm down and return to baseline.
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How To Handle A Panic Attack
Professor Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, says it’s important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you.
“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening,” he says. “Tell yourself that the symptoms you’re experiencing are caused by anxiety.”
He says don’t look for distractions. “Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, it’s important to try to remain in the situation until the anxiety has subsided.”
“Confront your fear. If you don’t run away from it, you’re giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing’s going to happen.”
As the anxiety begins to pass, start to focus on your surroundings and continue to do what you were doing before.
“If youre having a short, sudden panic attack, it can be helpful to have someone with you, reassuring you that it will pass and the symptoms are nothing to worry about,” says Professor Salkovskis.
The Bodily Effects Of Panic Attacks
The bodys fight-or-flight response is the culprit behind the intense physical symptoms of a panic attack. Adrenaline floods into the bloodstream in reaction to a perceived threat and puts the body on high alert. Breathing becomes fast and shallow, the heartbeat quickens, and the senses sharpen. All of these changes happen instantly, which gives the body energy to confront a dangerous situation or get out of harms way.
Its not clear what causes panic attacks, but they might develop in association with major life changes, traumatic events, and lifestyle stressors. They can strike at any time on an airplane, in the middle of a business meeting, or at a party. The experience of a panic attack can be extremely frightening. People who have these attacks often feel as if they are losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying.
While these episodes of extreme fear can last 20 to 30 minutes, they often happen without warning. Supporting a loved one through a panic attack starts with being able to recognize the physical signs, such as:
Panic attacks can have increasingly disruptive effects on a persons life. These may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Increased risk of suicidal tendencies
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Causes Of Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can also trigger panic attacks.
Panic attacks can also be caused by medical conditions and other physical causes. If youre suffering from symptoms of panic, its important to see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:
Theres No Clear Cause Of Panic Attacks
Not every person who struggles with anxiety also has panic attacks, but there can be a genetic predisposition to them. People with anxiety disorders and mood disorders are at a higher risk, and panic attacks do tend to run in families.
Panic attacks are also associated with major life transitions , severe stress , and certain medical conditions. Panic attacks can be triggered by stimulant use, including caffeine, and withdrawal from medication.
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Focus On Your Breathing
After you get to a safe space, the best advice is to start focusing on your breathing. It is usually quite easy to gain control over. Start taking deep breaths in through your nose counting to at least five and feel your stomach and chest filling deeply with air then breathe slowly from your mouth counting a bit longer to six or seven, and feel your stomach and chest empty completely of air. Bringing mindful focus to any of your sensory modalities during your hyper-aroused state will help you get more grounded and allow your PNS system to begin slowly down-regulating your activation level. 6254a4d1642c605c54bf1cab17d50f1e
You’re Frozen You Can’t Move You Think The End Is Coming
Corky Klein, 63, Laguna Beach, Calif.
Courtesy Corky Klein
Corky Klein knows she’s about to have an anxiety attack when her whole body breaks out in a sweat.
“I even get sweaty on the balls of my feet, she says.
She gets light-headed, and a little dizzy. Then the headache and the panic hit.
“You forget about everything around you, Klein says. Your heart is beating horribly, and that brings on more panic. You get this scared feeling and you want to run. But you’re frozen. You can’t move. You think the end is coming.”
Klein began having panic attacks after her mom died when she was 16. Over the years, she says her anxiety led her into dark bouts of alcoholism and addiction, into long periods of isolation, and on many trips to the emergency room.
Ten years ago, at age 53, she was still having frequent panic attacks, even though she had kicked her addictions. Concerned, her doctor persuaded her to try therapy, and she began seeing a cognitive behavior therapist who specialized in anxiety.
The therapist helped her process the trauma in her past and taught her how to cope with her anxiety before it escalated.
“I learned that I had never dealt with the stuff that had happened to me, Klein says.
Her panic attacks became less frequent, and she focused on exercising, enjoying her retirement and spending time with her son and other family members.
How she copes: She exercises every day , and she uses an app called Calm for meditation and deep-breathing exercises.
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How To Deal With Panic Attacks
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.
Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness.
The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening.
They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die.
Most panic attacks last somewhere from five minutes to half an hour.
Types Of Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, much more than the typical anxiety that most people experience in their daily lives. People may have trembling, twitching, muscle tension, nausea, irritability, poor concentration, depression, fatigue, headaches, light-headedness, breathlessness or hot flashes.
Panic Disorder: People with panic disorder have panic attacks with feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. During the attacks, individuals may feel like they can’t breathe, have lost control, are having a heart attack or even that they are dying. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, dizziness, nausea, sweating, tingling or numbness, and a racing heartbeat. Some people will have one isolated attack, while others will develop a long term panic disorder either way, there is often high anxiety between attacks because there is no way of knowing when the next one will occur. Panic disorders often begin early in adulthood. Many people with panic disorder also suffer from agoraphobia . See more on Panic Attacks.
Phobias are irrational fears. Individuals with phobias realize their fears are irrational, but thinking about or facing the feared object or situation can bring on a panic attck or severe anxiety.
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Should You See Your Doctor About Panic Attacks
A panic attack can make you feel like youre about to collapse or even die, but it’s usually harmless. However, in some cases, you may need medical advice to rule out an underlying physical cause.
Get medical advice if:
- your panic attack continues after doing 20 minutes of slow breathing
- you still feel unwell after your breathing returns to normal
- you still have a rapid or irregular heartbeat or chest pains after your panic attack
- you regularly have panic attacks, as this could be a sign that you have panic disorder
What Causes Panic Attacks At Night
If you wake up with a panic attack, it’s not often clear why these nighttime panic attacks have occurred – often there is no explanation. Similar to daytime panic attacks, symptoms can include feeling faint or dizzy, a pounding heart, shortness of breath, nausea, and sweating. However, we do know that the brain doesnt switch off during sleep, so its possible for any pent-up worries or anxieties to manifest in our unconscious brains, causing a nocturnal panic attack. Also, struggling with daytime panic attacks makes it more likely that you will experience panic attacks at night.
While nocturnal panic attacks can be sudden and frightening, theyre actually a common mental health condition. So what causes them?
Research suggests there are a number of other factors that could increase the risk of someone suffering from both day and night time panic attacks. These include:
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How Can I Prevent Panic Attacks
Your healthcare provider can help you identify triggers that bring on panic attacks. During psychotherapy, you learn strategies to manage triggering events and prevent an attack. You can also take these actions to lower your odds of having a panic attack:
- Cut back on caffeine.
- Talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements or over-the-counter medications. Certain substances can increase anxiety.
Preventing A Further Attack
It may help to:
- read a self-help book for anxiety based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy ask your GP to recommend one
- try complementary therapies such as massage and aromatherapy, or activities like yoga and pilates, to help you relax
- learn breathing techniques to help ease symptoms
- do regular physical exercise to reduce stress and tension
- avoid sugary food and drinks, caffeine and alcohol, and stop smoking, as all they can all make attacks worse
For more help, read how to deal with panic attacks.
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How Are Panic Attacks Managed Or Treated
Psychotherapy, medications or a combination are very effective at stopping panic attacks. How long youll need treatment depends on the severity of your problem and how well you respond to treatment. Options include:
- Psychotherapy:Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. You discuss your thoughts and emotions with a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist. This specialist helps identify panic attack triggers so you can change your thinking, behaviors and reactions. As you start to respond differently to triggers, the attacks decrease and ultimately stop.
- Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications can make panic attacks less frequent or less severe. Providers may prescribe serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors , serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or tricyclic antidepressants . SSRIs include fluoxetine and paroxetine . SNRIs include duloxetine and venlafaxine . TCAs include amitriptyline and doxepin .
- Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication to treat and prevent panic attacks. They help with anxiety but have risks of addiction or dependence. These medications include alprazolam and lorazepam .