What Causes Panic Attacks
Experts dont know why some people experience panic attacks or develop panic disorder. The brain and nervous system play key roles in how you perceive and handle fear and anxiety. Your risk of having panic attacks increases if you have:
- Family history:Anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, often run in families. Experts arent sure why.
- Mental health issues: People who have anxiety disorders, depression or other mental illness are more prone to panic attacks.
- Substance abuse problems:Alcoholism and drug addiction can increase the risk of panic attacks.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Asking questions and providing information to your doctor or health care provider can improve your care. Talking with your doctor builds trust and leads to better results, quality, safety, and satisfaction. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website for tips at .
Panic Attack Or Heart Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to those of a heart attack. The Ada app can help you check your symptoms. or find out more about how it works.
It is common for people experiencing a panic attack to become convinced that they are having a heart attack during the episode. Although this may be related to the distressing thoughts that accompany a panic attack, emergency medical services should be called if a heart attack is suspected, as â unlike a panic attack â a heart attack requires prompt medical attention and can be life-threatening.
Key differences between a heart attack and a panic attack include:
Despite being able to identify these differences, it is advisable to always seek medical attention if the affected person:
- Has a history of heart attacks
- Meets the risk criteria for a heart attack, such as high blood pressure, being overweight, getting limited physical exercise
- Has never had a panic attack before
If one is not deemed to be at risk of a heart attack, psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy may be recommended in order to help the affected person overcome any long-term anxiety about having a heart attack. This will help prevent a fear of having a heart attack from manifesting in, or forming the basis of, future panic attacks.
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Breathing Exercise For Panic Attacks
If youre breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
- breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
- breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth
- some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
- close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes. You may feel tired afterwards.
Visit the No Panic website for another breathing exercise to calm panic.
This Is How Your Nervous System Works
To simplify, you can think of your mind and body in everyday mode as a car driving at normal speed on the highway. If you need to pass someone ahead of you, you press on the gas to increase your speed . If another car is merging ahead of you and you need to slow down, you let up on the gas . Ideally, the SNS system and the PNS system are working togetherbut opposite to each other to maintain the perfect balance of activation needed to get you safely to where you want to go in the desired amount of time.
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Anxiety Vs Panic Attacks
Anxiety and panic attacks are both very common. They are both often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed as medical conditions.
Anxiety is characterized by ongoing worry or fear about the future. With generalized anxiety disorder , for example, anxiety symptoms are present for normal everyday experiences and can create mild-to-severe interruptions in a person’s life. With anxiety, symptoms may be present on some level all the time or during specific periods of known stressors, such as during a public presentation.
Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and can happen from either a calm state or a state of feeling anxious. They often occur without warning or a known trigger and bring a sense of doom, intense fear, and a feeling of dying.
Similarly, both anxiety and panic attacks have physical and psychological symptoms. With panic attacks, however, the symptoms tend to come on quickly and are often only present for up to 10 minutes. With anxiety, symptoms can be present for a much longer period of time.
Turn On Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the Rest and Digest system. This will help to significantly reduce the physical symptoms of a panic attack. It produces a calm and relaxed feeling by
Increasing a feeling of calm
Improves sexual arousal
You can turn on your parasympathetic nervous system with deep breathing exercises and by exposing yourself to cold temperatures.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise:
Inhale through your nose slowly by expanding from your belly first then fill your upper lungs for a count of 5.
Hold your breath for a count of 2.
Exhale slowly and forcefully through pursed lips for a count of 10.
Repeat this 5 to 10 times or do it for at least 1 minute.
Exposure to Cold
Research indicates that your sympathetic system slows down and your parasympathetic system increases when your body adjusts to cold temperatures . It appears that any kind of cold exposure works such as drinking cold water, running hands under cold water, and splashing cold water on your face.
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What To Do When You Are Having A Panic Attack
If you struggle with panic attacks, we have outlined strategies that you can use which can help you in the moment:
Remind yourself what is happening
Safely stop what you are doing so that you can focus on what you are thinking.
Tell yourself that your mind and body are just choosing to react intensely to your thoughts when they dont need to. It isnt a heart attack and youre not going to collapse or die.
Control your breathing
Your breathing may quicken during a panic attack. The hyperventilation you experience can cause you to become even more frightened as you worry about not being able to breathe. Focus on breathing slowly, deeply and as gently as possible.
Breathe in through the nose for three seconds, hold the breath for two seconds and breathe out through the mouth for three seconds.
You may want to close your eyes to help you focus. By doing this, you can calm your breathing, reduce your physical panic attack symptoms, and stop the panic cycle.
Remind yourself that this panic attack will pass
Statements like panic is just a high level of anxiety and my panic will pass naturally given time and wont last forever can help you recognise that this is just a moment – you arent controlled by panic attacks and this will eventually go away.
Practise mindfulness and re-focus
Psychotherapy To Overcome Panic Attack
Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy is initial treatment choice for panic disorders and panic attacks. Psychotherapy help a person in understanding about the panic disorder and the attacks as well as learn ways to cope with it.
It may take time and effort to get better results from the treatment of psychotherapy for panic attack. The symptoms of panic attacks may take time to reduce and it may gradually relieve within few months as well. When occasional visits are being scheduled, these attacks will stay under control.
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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.
What To Do When Panic Strikes
So when panic strikes and a trigger in your head slams the pedal to the metal without any apparent reason, what do you do? Well, first of all, I don’t like the term “panic attack.” The reason is that nothing is attacking you . What’s happening is that your mind has triggered a DEFCON 5 alert without there being any threat or danger at all.
So first thing to realize is that there is no need to be terrified and you will need to get your PSN system in play to get your mind and body back in balance . Here’s how to do it.
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What Do We Do With This Information
The same techniques that help us manage stress and anxiety can help us decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT can help us learn to practice with small anxiety triggers to train ourselves and our brain to begin to slow down the panic process.
Remember that our amygdala contributes to the memory of dangerous situations and speeds up our responses. We can consciously plant new memories in our amygdala about things we previously perceived as dangerous to override the panic response.
We all experience anxiety and panic attacks differently. Working closely with a mental health professional can help us deepen our understanding of the brains processes and how we can influence them. Living life with anxiety and panic disorders is possible with the right tools and support.
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Can Anxiety Lead To Panic
A person who has panic disorder may experience anxiety that they are going to have a panic attack. The uncertainty about if or when an attack is going to happen can lead to anxiety between attacks.
For a person with panic disorder, anxiety may trigger a panic attack. The fear of having a panic attack can affect the persons behavior and ability to function in daily life.
The APA suggest there may be a biological factor underlying panic disorder, but scientists have not yet identified a specific marker.
- tightness in the throat and difficulty breathing
- trembling or shaking
- feeling faint
Not every case of anxiety will include all these symptoms. Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the trigger and how the person reacts to it.
Faced with an examination, for example, some people might feel mildly apprehensive, while others may experience all the above symptoms.
Usually, when the hazard or perceived danger passes, symptoms go away.
Anxiety often results from stress or feeling overwhelmed.
Common causes of anxiety include:
- work pressure
- the use of some medications
- a recent or past traumatic experience
Triggers of anxiety could include:
- public speaking
- exposure to a phobia trigger
- a fear of having a panic attack
Sometimes, anxiety can also stem from a psychological disorder.
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Your Body Is In State Of An Emergency
Each person experiencing a panic attack will describe a unique set of terrifying thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms. Even though there is no clear and present danger, your brain has tripped all the “Red Alert” switches to prep for an impending catastrophe.
The good news is that your body is working as it should in the face of an emergency the oddly “bad” news is that there is no emergencyit’s all a false alarm. The experience is terrifyingyou obviously don’t want it to happen again. Let’s check out what’s going on, what you can do about it when it happens, and what you can do to avoid it in the future.
What Happens Inside Your Body
Your bodyâs âfight or flightâ response is behind these intense physical symptoms. Normally when you encounter a threat — whether itâs a grizzly bear or a swerving car — your nervous system springs into action. The hormone adrenaline floods into your bloodstream, putting your body on high alert. Your heartbeat quickens, which sends more blood to your muscles. Your breathing becomes fast and shallow, so you can take in more oxygen. Your blood sugar spikes. Your senses get sharper.
All of these changes — which happen in an instant — give you the energy you need to confront a dangerous situation or get out of harmâs way quickly.
With random panic attacks, your body goes on alert for no reason. Researchers donât know exactly what triggers them. But the physical effects are real: During a panic attack, the adrenaline levels in the body can spike by 2 1/2 times or more.
Panic attacks may not come as unexpectedly as they seem. The physical changes may start about an hour before an attack. In one study, people with panic disorder wore devices that tracked their heart activity, sweating, and breathing. The results showed lower-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide, a sign of rapid, deep breathing that can leave you breathless, as early as about 45 minutes before the panic attack.
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Stopping Panic: What To Do When Youre Having A Panic Attack
Here, some strategies that have worked for others that may help you:
Dealing With A Panic Attack
Although a panic attack comes on suddenly, often with no prior indication that it is going to happen, its initial symptoms intensify, and it tends to reach its peak after around 10 minutes. One can begin deploying various coping strategies to reduce the severity of a panic attack as soon as one notices the first signs.
Techniques which are useful in navigating a panic attack focus on calming the mind and body. Used effectively, they can reduce the severity of a given panic attack or prevent its initial stages developing into a full-symptom panic attack. Many helpful techniques related to managing a panic attack or preventing future episodes are derived from cognitive behavioral therapy , which focuses on making changes to a personâs usual thought processes and behavior in relation to particular concepts.
Strategies for managing an oncoming panic attack include:
Relaxing the muscles
A panic attack causes oneâs muscles to tense up, so performing muscle relaxing exercises, focused on relaxing both specific muscle groups and oneâs entire body, can help calm the body during a panic attack.
Stopping all activities
There are many CBT techniques designed to help with deconstructing anxious thoughts and restoring calm during and after a panic attack. Doctors or psychotherapists will be able to recommend techniques appropriate to each person’s mental health status and the nature of their panic attack.
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When To Use Medication
Sometimes, panic attacks cannot be managed entirely alone. If panic attacks become an ongoing concern or they cause significant anxiety or fear about future panic attacks, it might be necessary to see a therapist or doctor.
Types of therapeutic interventions that have been shown to have the best outcomes include cognitive behavioral therapy and humanistic therapy. CBT involves understanding the relationship between thoughts and behaviors and working toward changing negative or distorted thoughts to more positive, helpful ones.
One study found CBT to be between 85% and 90% successful in treating panic disorders.
Humanistic therapy is a type of intervention that helps people make rational decisions and accept responsibility for themselves. Common humanistic therapy approaches include client-centered therapy, gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.
If therapy alone is not effective in treating panic attacks, as may be the case in severe cases of panic disorders, medications may be recommended and prescribed by a psychiatrist. Commonly prescribed medications that have been shown to be effective in helping with panic disorders include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.