What is a panic attack?
When a person is overcome with fear or anxiety and is suddenly unable to function as they usually do, this is called a panic attack.
There are a number of psychological and physical symptoms, which may affect breathing and make you feel as though your life is in danger or that you are unable to cope. However, do not despair, as a number of treatments and coping mechanisms are available.
Why do they occur?
A panic attack may be a regular event for some people who have specific triggers, such as extreme stress, enforced change or social phobias. People who are generally anxious are more susceptible to panic attacks and a propensity to anxiety can often run in families, but others who have never had psychological challenges may also experience a panic attack. Major life events, such as bereavement, divorce, redundancy, marriage, and debt can trigger panic attacks in otherwise mentally healthy individuals.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Panic and a feeling of loss of control
- Shortness of breath or tightness in the chest
- Heart palpitations or racing pulse
- Pain or discomfort in the chest or left arm
- Trembling and shaking
- Sweating and/or shivering
- A feeling of choking
- Nausea or dizziness
- Numbness or tingling
- Insomnia or abrupt awakening from sleep in a distressed state
- Feeling detatched from everything going on around you, perhaps as though you are looking down on yourself from outside of your body
Some of these symptoms can be so severe that the person believes they may be having a heart attack. If you do not suffer from panic attacks on a regular basis and are able to recognise your personal symptoms, it is important to ensure that a medical professional examines you in cases of chest pain or shortness of breath to rule out the possibility of a more severe medical problem.
What can I do to treat a panic attack?
- Although in severe cases, medication can help, it is much more beneficial when combined with relaxation techniques, counselling and lifestyle changes. Medication can also have side effects which may increase anxiety levels in some cases.
- Identify your triggers and confront your fears - once you know what they are, you may choose to avoid your triggers (such as using alternative means of travel is your fear is of flying) but if this seriously impacts on your life, then other approaches will need to be considered. Counselling could help you to identify your triggers.
- Accept that a certain level of stress or apprehension is normal and a healthy response to dangerous situations. Learn about your trigger. Establish the facts about the level of risk. Try to rationalise whether the danger is real or imaginary. Sometimes gaining more knowledge about something reduces the fear of it. Exposure therapy may be useful, but in a controlled environment with a trained professional.
- Avoid stimulants - as well as caffeine and illegal drugs, stimulants are often found in other foods and medicines; for example coffee, tea, chocolate or non-drowsy medication. Although you may feel that smoking alleviates the symptoms of a panic attack, as soon as the cigarette is finished, anxiety levels will rise, usally to levels higher than before the cigarette. Smoking also seriously damages all areas of your health.
- Learn how to control your breathing - Many of the symptoms of a panic attack are accentuated by the lack of oxygen in your system. Therefore, if you learn to breathe deeply and slowly, you can often prevent the attack from happening when you start to recognise the first symptom. Breathing helps to reduce other symptoms of fear.
- Master relaxation techniques - When practised regularly, yoga, meditation and mindfulness can counteract the body's responses to stress, both during a panic attack and in helping to prevent them. Most people can learn to reprogram their neurological pathways in under thirty days of regular practice. Make time in your daily routine to form new habits and adjust your ways of thinking.
Above all, know that you are not alone, and if you are unable to overcome your feelings of anxiety, contact a counsellor for help.
For further information about how CCC can help you to manage panic attacks, contact your nearest reception
Hunts and Cambs 01223 233047 Peterborough 01733 553166