The Cycle Of Fear Begins After The First Panic Attack
Panic attacks are the product of development, even though they begin to manifest abruptly. Theyre the physical trigger of an adverse emotional state thats maintained over time. Thus, and on average, those who experience them have accumulated a great burden of anxiety over many months, perhaps years.
What happens after the first panic attack is secondary anxiety. This is the state in which youll develop an intense fear of having a new attack again. The intense symptoms and loss of control terrify you. It all means that youll end up feeding that fear, which will lead to a vicious cycle that intensifies this proclivity even more.
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.
Tip 1: Talk To Someone
Dont forget the importance of a friend in helping you combat panic attacks.
Sometimes talking to someone who can empathise with your situation can be one of the most helpful ways you can deal with panic attacks. Seek out friends who are able to encourage and provide you with a sense of comfort during difficult times. All it takes is a simple phone call or text.
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How To Teach Your Children About Anxiety Or Panic Attacks
Anxiety attacks usually last for about 10-15 minutes however it can feel like a lifetime for both you and your child. After your child has his or her first panic attack, it is important to educate them on the signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks so if another one occurs, they can understand what is happening. Teach your children that panic attacks are a false alarm in their bodies. Let them know the physical sensations associated with a panic attack so that when they experience them, it wont be as scary.
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 Tell If Youre Having A Panic Attack
How can you tell if youre having a panic attack? Most people experience one of four things during an attack:
An escalating feeling of doom and catastrophe as if something bad is going to happen right now. Heart racing. Many believe theyre having a heart attack. A feeling of loss of control. Some people feel as if theyve lost control of themselves and will do something embarrassing in front of other people. Hyperventilating. Some people take such quick, rapid breaths that they begin hyperventilating and feel as if theyre suffocating.
Other common symptoms of a panic attack include:
Flushes or chills Fear of going crazy, dying or losing control Trouble catching your breath Dizziness Chest pains
A panic attack can last for several minutes, and those who experience them claim those few minutes were the most distressing minutes of their lives. In some cases, panic attacks will last even longer or recur.
Helplessness And The Journey For Help
Seeking help is another side of what happens after the first panic attack. There comes a time when youre aware of your helplessness. Sooner or later you realize that youre losing control of your life. So, the thought of experiencing a new one in an unexpected place and circumstance leads you to take the first step in dealing with it.
However, you may not always deal with it properly. For instance, some people do yoga because they think that relaxation and meditation techniques will help them reduce these attacks. However, such techniques dont always work. In fact, they dont because anxiety is a complex and elusive enemy thats long attached to their life. Hence, these people need more specialized concrete strategies like the ones only a therapist can offer.
Psychological therapy is the only means to reduce panic attacks and the emotional reality behind them. Stay hopeful because youll regain control to shape a fuller and more satisfying life, gradually and with commitment.
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First Aid For Panic Attacks
Immediately on recognizing these symptoms do the following to reduce the oxygen intake.
- Breathe into a paper bag, or even a paper envelope, as this will reduce the oxygen coming into your lungs.
- The same effect can be achieved by cupping your hands over your nose and mouth as you breathe.
- The best method and least obvious is to quickly start monitoring your breathing. As soon as you feel panicky, blow all your air out through your mouth. After that breathe in short breaths through your nose and exhale long breaths through your mouth. Repeat until the panicky sensation is gone.
- As panic attacks can also be the result of low blood sugar, especially for diabetics, suck on a glucose sweet or drink a non-diabetic cool drink. It must be non-diabetic because you need the sugar.
The First Night I Had A Panic Attack
I had just finished a phone call late at night and felt what I can only describe as a feeling of electricity travelling up through my legs.
I wasnt too alarmed at this, as I had been experiencing similar sensations for about one month before, but not to this extent.
Very quickly, I found it hard to breathe. My face was tingling, and the air was not getting in. I was suffocating.
It is hard to remember all the symptoms that I experienced, and I am sure I will miss a few. What I will not miss is having an immediate feeling of complete and utter terror.
I believed, without a shadow of a doubt that I was dying.
I checked my pulse and it was very faint.
I was alone. After midnight, I ran to the apartment upstairs and started banging on the door that I needed help.
I rang a friend who lived nearby and she sent her husband round.
I was out on the street waiting for him to arrive, and he drove me to the hospital. The journey was terrifying as I found it difficult to breathe, and my pulse felt weak.
I was kept in the hospital until about 5 am while they did tests. Everything was okay. They said I might have had a panic attack and checked in with my doctor during the day.
I was at the hospital the next night, and a few more nights that week.
Fast forward a good few years to now, and I know that night, I had my first full-blown panic attack.
Hindsight is a great thing
Feeling sleep deprived probably did not help, as quite quickly, my sleep was poor.
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When To Seek Medical Attention
The first time one experiences a panic attack, one should seek medical attention promptly in order to check oneâs overall physical and mental health and discuss the possibility and prevention of future panic attacks.
It is not uncommon for an individual, who has experienced a panic attack, to feel embarrassment in telling their family or doctor. Many people are unaware of how common it is to experience a panic attack and/or that it could relate to panic disorder or another form of anxiety â conditions, which are highly treatable with appropriate psychotherapy and/or medication.
Even if one is not diagnosed with a mental health condition, oneâs doctor will be able to advise on management techniques in the event that a future panic attack occurs and will be able to perform check-ups to rule out other conditions or health concerns. For example, one may be screened to rule out the risk of a heart attack, particularly if one believed that one was experiencing a heart attack during the episode.
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
- Serotonin-norepinephrine 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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It’s As If A Vice Is Squeezing Me
Anita Lesko, 61, Pensacola, Fla.
Courtesy Anita Lesko
Anita Lesko has always been a germaphobe, so her anxiety started to build when she first read about the coronavirus in early 2020.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist , Lesko knew she was at higher risk of exposure because of her job administering anesthesia to patients before surgery. When she began hearing about the nationwide lack of personal protective equipment for health-care workers, Lesko really began to worry.
“The prospect of going to work, getting exposed and ending up on a ventilator or dead that’s what pushed me over the edge, she says.
One morning in March, when she was between patients at the hospital, Lesko developed a deep feeling of impending doom. She began to hyperventilate, her heart started racing and she broke out in a sweat. Pressure began building in her chest.
“I got a gripping sensation in my whole chest and throat area, as if a vice was squeezing me, she said. Then I started shaking literally to the core of my body.
Lesko asked to leave early and fled to her car. She collapsed into the driver’s seat and burst into tears.
“I was just sitting there trying to talk myself out of it, and trying to make myself breathe normally, she recalls.
It took about 30 minutes before she was calm enough to drive. When Lesko got home, she was so exhausted she had to sleep for a few hours before she could do anything.
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.
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When Should I Call The Doctor
Some panic attacks have signs that can be confused with a physical problem like a heart attack. If you have chest pain or trouble breathing or lose consciousness, seek emergency medical care.
You should call your healthcare provider if you have panic attacks and experience:
- Chronic anxiety that interferes with daily life.
- Difficulty concentrating.
The Experience Of Panic
Your panic event probably felt like a heart attack. You felt breathless and disorientated and had you or someone else taken your pulse, it would almost certainly have been rapid and possibly irregular. You would have felt dizzy, nauseous and shaky. Even though these panic symptoms probably passed between five and 30 minutes later, you no doubt felt fortunate to have come through the experience intact.
As a result of this dreadful experience you probably took yourself to the hospital or you saw your family doctor. After running tests and taking blood samples the conclusion is reached that your heart is fine. How does this leave you feeling? Stupid? Embarrassed? Perplexed?
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Myth: People Experiencing Panic Attacks Need Assistance Or Medical Attention
Reality: It can be scary to observe someone experiencing a panic attack. But its important to remember that theyre not in any immediate danger. The best thing you can do is to remain calm.
While its important to be able to help someone distinguish between a panic attack and a heart attack, usually people who have panic attacks often are able to tell the difference.
If youre around someone having a panic attack and have already asked them if they need support, the best thing to do is respect whatever their answer is, and believe them if they state they can take care of it on their own.
Many people become adept at developing skills and tricks for stopping panic attacks and have a default plan of action when such situations occur.
I know exactly what to do to take care of myself in such situations, and often just need a bit of time to do the things that I know will help me without worrying about judgement from those around me.
If youve asked someone having panic attack if they need help, the best thing to do is respect their answer even if they say that they can handle it alone.
What Causes Panic Disorder
While the exact causes are not known, what researchers do know is that panic disorder does sometimes run in families. And it is often seen in individuals who suffer from other anxiety disorders explains Cole.
For example, a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience a panic attack when their schedule or compulsions are interrupted. Individuals who struggle with specific phobias are also susceptible to panic attacks. A person with an extreme fear of heights may experience a panic attack in a penthouse apartment.
And for someone with generalized anxiety disorder , a condition characterized by extreme fear or worry, the unending anxiety can escalate to a panic attack. People with post-traumatic stress disorder have a higher incidence of panic disorder than the general population. Illness or traumatic events increase the chances of panic attacks.
People with hyperthyroidism , mitral valve prolapse, and other conditions or diseases also may be more easily triggered.
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Tip : Chant A Mantra Or Practice Meditation
Similar to the deep breathing exercise in #Tip 1, chanting a mantra or practising meditation are simple tricks to help relax your mind and refocus your attention.
The practice of sacred utterances such as Om or focusing on ones breath during a meditation exercise are great exercises that can help relieve panic attacks
My First Panic Attack
If this is your first time on my site, my name is Elaine, and I specialise in anxiety disorders. I also suffered from panic attacks.
This page is a personal account of what panic attacks were like for me. If you are looking for a more formal page on panic attacks that discusses treatments and recovery options, you should read this first.
I wanted to write this page, as much of what I read on the internet gave formal descriptions of panic attacks that I found difficult to relate to. I shall be as open and honest as I can, I am not ashamed of what happened to me, and this is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to write a personal account, many years later, as I was overwhelmingly ashamed at the time.
dr elaine ryan
I have a lot more compassion now towards myself, and I thought that if I wrote a personal account of my own development of panic, that you might be able to relate to it, and in doing so, not feel ashamed, as you have enough to contend with, with the panic attacks!
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