What Are Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected episodes of intense anxiety, which can cause a variety of frightening symptoms. These include:
- Feeling out of control and disconnected from your surroundings
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed ;
- Chest pains and shortness of breath – a tightness of the chest and feeling as though its a struggle to breathe
- A racing or pounding heart
- Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling lips and numbness in your fingers and toes
- Fluctuating body temperature feeling very hot or very cold
These symptoms can be so severe they sometimes make first time sufferers believe theyre experiencing a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Over time, panic attacks can become more frequent, and the fear of having a panic attack becomes embedded, resulting in a vicious circle.
Night time panic attacks, also known as nocturnal panic attacks or night terrors, happen while youre asleep and wake you up, often with the same symptoms as day time panic attacks. However, while these nocturnal attacks usually only last for a few minutes, it can take a long time for you to calm down enough to go back to sleep after having one. This, coupled with worrying about whether youre going to have another panic attack, may lead to insomnia.
How Are Panic Attacks Diagnosed
Serious health problems, such as heart disease, thyroid disease and respiratory problems, cause symptoms similar to panic attacks. Your healthcare provider may run tests to rule out a physical problem. If theres no physical cause, your provider may make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and risk factors.
When To Get Help
See a GP if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder.
They’ll ask you to describe your symptoms, how often you get them, and how long you have had them.
They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
It can sometimes be difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions and personal life, but try not to feel anxious or embarrassed.
You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you have regular and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.
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How To Cope With An Anxiety Attack
Lets start with the immediate, quick hacks to help you freeze your anxiety attack once it kicks into your life. ;No matter how scared or helpless you feel at that moment, try to do the following things:
Do a Simple Stretch
When you have an attack, your breath is too short and shallow, meaning it worsens further symptoms. ;Once you feel the panic stand up and start doing some simple stretching. If you manage to squeeze in a yawn, that will help you tame the attack even faster. ;Stretching and yawning instantly helps you relieve muscle tension and interrupt the vicious cycle that is just about to roll in full strength.
Focus on your breathing.
No need to master the art of meditation for this. ;Simply inhale for three counts and exhale for five. ;Repeat the exercise for as long as you need to.
Drink a glass of ice-cold water.
To regulate your bodys temperature and reduce the escalating cycle of panic, slowly drink a glass of icy water. Take small sips and focus on every gulp you make. ;While drinking, imagine how your body and mind is cooling down.
Focus on using peripheral vision
To activate your parasympathetic nervous system, use this simple meditation technique: focus your gaze on an imaginary point in front of you; relax your focus and use your peripheral vision, as if you are trying to take in everything around you with soft focus. It signals to your brain to relax. The more you practice this technique the faster it will help you to relax in any situation.
Could You Be Suffering From Panic Disorder
Take our 2-minute panic disorder test to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.
During the day if she was out, the attack felt like my head suddenly weighed a thousand pounds and my chest would get really heavy. It literally felt like something was pulling me down. I would usually have to head home immediately.; I would then experience foggy vision where itactually looked like there was fog in the air. I also experienced double vision and parts of my bodylike my neck or one arm or one entire side of my facewould go totally numb.
In addition to the emotional turmoil and the physical manifestations that Caroline and Kirstie describe panic attacks can cause palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath or smothering; feelings of choking; chest pain or discomfort; nausea or abdominal distress; feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint; chills or overheating; numbness or tingling; feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself ; fear of losing control or going crazy; and fear of dying.
Isolated attacks are bad enough. But when the attacks recur in a short period of time or when the fear of another attack is so strong that you begin to avoid situations, places, and people that may trigger an attack, you may be diagnosed with panic disorder.
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Panic Attack: What To Do When It Happens
Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown
Treatment For Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
The most effective form of professional treatment for tackling panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is therapy. Even a short course of treatment can help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviors that are sustaining or triggering your panic attacks and helps you look at your fears in a more realistic light. For example, if you had a panic attack while driving, what is the worst thing that would really happen? While you might have to pull over to the side of the road, you are not likely to crash your car or have a heart attack. Once you learn that nothing truly disastrous is going to happen, the experience of panic becomes less terrifying.
Hotlines and support
NAMI Helpline; Trained volunteers can provide information, referrals, and support for those suffering from anxiety disorders in the U.S. Call 1-800-950-6264.
Find a Therapist; Search for anxiety disorder treatment providers in the U.S.
Support Groups; List of support groups in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
Anxiety UK; Information, support, and a dedicated helpline for UK sufferers and their families. Call: 03444 775 774.
Anxiety Canada; Provides links to services in different Canadian provinces.
SANE Help;Centre Provides information about symptoms, treatments, medications, and where to go for support in Australia. Call: 1800 18 7263. .
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Try To Find Evidence For Your Fear
When trying to stop a panic attack, you need to get to the root cause of it: your fear. Many times are fears are exaggerated in our mind. Our imagination can play some terrifying tricks on us. A simple way to stop panic attacks is to first label what the situation or trigger is. For example, an upcoming wedding. Then, list your feelings such as anxious, paranoid, scared, etc. Next, name the unhelpful thoughts that youre having. For example, feeling like youre in danger, feeling like youre about to die. Then, list the facts that support your unhelpful thought.
Keep in mind they need to be facts not beliefs. You might have some weird coincidences that you can list but that wont be considered actual evidence. Then, list facts that provide evidence against the unhelpful thought. For example, maybe youre still young and healthy so you likely arent about to die. Next, provide an alternative and more realistic. Next, focus on reevaluate you how currently feel. This is the Thought Record you can fill out to help you.;
A Panic Attack Comes Out Of Nowhere And Is Not An Anxiety Attack
Though we tend to use the terms panic attack and anxiety attack interchangeably, its worth noting that professionally speaking , theres actually no such thing as an anxiety attack, per se.
Anxiety is an excessive persistent worrying over an imminent event that can last a while. A panic attack is a burst of intense fear that typically lasts fewer than 30 minutes, Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford tells NBC News BETTER. She says that she would never use the term anxiety attack to define any such event, noting that the term is something of a lay approach.
Additionally, when panic attacks are linked to a panic disorder, they come out of the blue with no apparent trigger, but anyone can experience a panic attack. If youre afraid of heights for instance, and are up on the roof, you might have a panic attack. The difference here is that in this case, the panic attack has a clear cause, whereas with a panic disorder theres no obvious culprit in the environment.
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How Panic Attacks Work
This includes such questions as:
* What triggers a panic attack?
* What causes panic attacks to happen on some days, and in some situations, but not others?
* Why would I have a panic attack one time I visit the grocery store or drive on a highway, and not at the same place another day?
* Why do I have less trouble if my support person is with me?
* How do panic attacks end?
For a discussion of this question, I am making available here a free copy of Chapter 7 from my Panic Attacks Workbook. Feel free to download this chapter for your own personal use.
Click here to view or download the chapter.
What You Can Do
To get through a panic attack, try to take control of your breathing first. Find a place where you can sit or be comfortable. Concentrate on making your breath slow and even. Try to inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds. Tell yourself that youâre not in danger and that the attack will pass.
If youâre not sure if youâre having a panic attack, itâs a good idea to go to the hospital to rule out any other health problems.
Panic disorder is one of the most treatable types of anxiety disorders. Medication and a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help. See your doctor if you have panic attacks often.
Harvard Health Publications: âUnderstanding the Stress Response.â
Robertson, D. Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System, Second Edition, Elsevier Academic Press, 2004.
The BMJ: âPanic Disorder.â
Biological Psychiatry: âDo Unexpected Panic Attacks Occur Spontaneously?â âFunctional t1Ï Imaging in Panic Disorder.â
Psychological Medicine: âDistinct Phasic and Sustained Brain Responses and Connectivity of Amygdala and Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis During Threat Anticipation in Panic Disorder.â
The Journal of Neuroscience: âReduced Serotonin Type 1A Receptor Binding in Panic Disorder.â
Mayo Clinic: âPanic Attacks and Panic Disorder.â
American Academy of Family Physicians: âPanic Disorder.â
Centre for Clinical Interventions : âPanic Stations.â
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Common Characteristics Of A Panic Attack
What, exactly, is a panic attack? A panic attack refers to a sudden episode of intense fear, panic or anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no imminent danger. Its disproportionate fear. Effectively, a panic attack fills you with the feeling of imminent doom when theres actually no immediate threat. Think of it as a false alarma misfiring of your fight-or-flight instinct, as it were.
In addition to an intense feeling of anxiety, a panic attack usually triggers a variety of physical symptoms, as well. These may include any or all of the following:
- Shortness of breath/hyperventilation
- Sensations of numbness or tingling in parts of the body
- Fear of dying
The scariest part of having a panic attack may be the physical symptoms themselvesmany people describe feeling like they are having a heart attack when it is instead a panic attack. The primary differences between a heart attack and a panic attack are that a panic attack is usually triggered by a wave of fear and panic attacks are usually brief, usually descelarating afting 10 minutes or so. Regardless, panic attacks can be highly disconcerting and uncomfortable, however brief.
Thank Your Body For Fighting Even If It Was Misled
Its easy to get upset at ourselves when we have a panic attack, even though theyre not our fault. Rather than feeling bad about these episodes, thank your body for the hard work its done after a panic attack.
Be gentle and kind to yourself and dont underestimate your body’s response respect it. Think, Wow my body is strong, it really got ready to fight and now we have to rest a little bit now. A positive attitude can be so helpful to lean in to the anxiety instead of avoiding it. And remember, there are therapists here to help you. This is very treatable and you dont need to suffer.
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Understand Their Panic May Not Make Sense To You Or Them
Panic attacks can be confusing as well as scary. People generally cant predict them and theres often no clear cause. They can happen in stressful situations but also during calm moments or even during sleep.
It might seem helpful to tell your friend theres nothing to be afraid of. But theyre probably perfectly aware theres no actual threat.
Thats part of what makes panic attacks so confusing. The reaction matches a fear response but nothings happening to cause that fear. In response, someone who gets panic attacks might begin to fear the symptoms themselves, or link them to a serious health issue.
Its typical to feel embarrassed or ashamed of such an intense reaction, Bingham explains. But having a trusted companion offer compassion can allow space for the person to return to baseline.
You can be that person even without understanding why they get panic attacks. Thats far less important than your ability to offer empathy and recognize their distress as real and significant.
Use Essential Oils To Snap Your System Out Of The Attack
Personally, I rely on essential oils and happily so. They arent like prescription drugs, where you become addicted and dependent. Essential oils are 100% natural and you can use them to snap your mind, body, and soul out of an attack. I always have some sort of anti-anxiety essential oil on me, whether its a roller or a drop on my wrist, essential oil jewelry, etc.
The scent of natural extracts trigger certain toxins in your brain that help you calm down and come out of a panic attack. However, its important to find out which ones do what. So, do educate yourself on the types of essential oils for anxiety and what each does.
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Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your bodys response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when youve practiced them beforehand.
What To Do When Someone Else Is Having A Panic Attack
This section will provide some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack.
First, try talking them through a few of the methods above. For instance, help them find a peaceful spot, encourage them to take slow, deep breaths, and ask them to focus on a nearby object.
If you do not know the person, introduce yourself and ask them if they need help. Ask them if they have had a panic attack before, and if so, what helps them regain control.
People can also try the following tips when someone else is having a panic attack:
- Try to remain calm. This will help them relax a little more.
- Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby and help them find one. Sitting down in a comfortable place can be very effective, as it allows them to focus on their breathing.
- Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
- Stay positive and nonjudgmental. Avoid validating any negative statements.
- Try having a gentle, friendly conversation to distract them and help them feel safe.
- Avoid telling them to calm down or telling them that there is nothing to worry about, as this devalues their emotions.
- Stay with them. If they feel that they need to be alone, make sure they remain visible.
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When Might I Have Panic Attacks
Panic attacks happen at different times for everyone. Some people have one panic attack then don’t ever experience another, or you might find that you have them regularly, or several in a short space of time. You might notice that particular places, situations or activities seem to trigger panic attacks. For example, they might happen before a stressful appointment.
Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. They can come on very quickly. Your symptoms will usually be at their worst within 10 minutes. You might also experience symptoms of a panic attack over a longer period of time. This could be because you’re having a second panic attack, or you’re experiencing other symptoms of anxiety.
“My panic attacks seem to come out of the blue now. But in fact, they seem to be triggered mainly at night when I want to go to sleep but cannot stop my mind racing, experiencing worry and panic about anything that may be on my mind.”