Several years ago, for a thankfully brief period of my life, I experienced panic attacks. Before I had this personal experience with sudden, inexplicable bouts of panic, I had no idea how devastating this condition can be. I am thankful to a kind nurse who has given me valuable tips for managing the attacks when they occurred. I am even more grateful that they are stopped after a few months.
Recognizing a Panic Attack: The Symptoms
The first few times I experienced a panic attack, I believed I was having a heart attack. I had chest pains, could barely catch my breath and was overcome with inexplicable fear. I had an overwhelming urge to run as fast as possible and to thrash my arms around, much as you might want to do if you came face to face with a wild lion or some other danger in the environment. There was lion, nor was there any other apparently reason for the incident.
Not everyone will have the same symptoms as I did. There are many possible symptoms – and not everyone will experience all of them. It is also true that many of the symptoms symptoms can also be symptoms of other conditions. However, it would be unusual to find so many symptoms occurring simultaneously with other conditions – but many symptoms at once are typical of a panic attack.
Furthermore, the symptoms associated with a panic attack go away quickly once the event is over. This is not necessarily true with other conditions.
However, the one common trait with all occurrences is the overwhelming sensation of fear and the urge to react to a non-existent threat. In most cases, there is no obvious cause or reason for the fear.
Heart Attack or Panic Attack
I later learned that my conviction that I was having a heart attack is a fairly common reaction. People having a panic attack are likely to experience heart palpitations, skipped heart beats, fluttering and chest pain.
Skipping a heart beat or experiencing musculo-skeletal pain in the chest area is a fairly ordinary occurrence in the population. However, when you are experiencing a panic attack and you feel these sensations, you are likely to focus on the sensations and question your heart health. This worry quickly becomes fear. As is true with all experiences of fear and perceivable danger, our bodies respond with the flight or fight response. This response means the heart rate increases yet more and the body readies itself for a major physical undertaking.
These symptoms lead you to the conclusion that you were right in the first place, and that you are indeed having a heart attack. Naturally, this worsens the situation. Fear causes more fear and more fear becomes even more fear.
Dizziness, Light-Headedness or Faintness
During a panic attack, you may also become dizzy and feel light-headed or flaw. The vision can blur and you may have sensations of vertigo. I can only liken this to the sensation I once had when a mild earthquake moved the floor under my feet. It is a feeling that the world is suddenly mobile and your physical self is out of control.
Worrying about this causes it to become worse.
Sweating or Perspiring
I recall feeling cold and clammy during and shortly after my attacks. This should come as no real surprise. We have long understood that anxiety is often accompanied by perspiration. This is why moisture detectors are incorporated into machines that administrator lie detector tests.
And, as is the case with the other symptoms, the more you worry about the clamminess or moisture, the more sweat you will generate. There is a condition known as hyperhidrosis in which people suffering from social anxiety perspire pints of fluids within minutes.
Fear of Dying or Losing Control
The fear of dying or fear of loss of control occurs frequently with persons having a panic attack. It is not easy to explain. If you have not had the experience, you may have difficulty understanding this. However, what happens is you become overwhelmed with a sensation of impending doom and you believe you are helpless to do anything about it. This sensation, when you are in the throes of it, seems to be physical, emotional and cognitive all at the same time.
Panic Attacks Do not Kill
Although you may feel like you are dying at the time, the reality is that panic attacks are not fatal. People do not die from this condition – although I believe there is a caveat here. During one of my attacks, I rushed blindly into a street in front of oncoming traffic. Luckily, I was not hit. However, injuries, even fatal injuries could occur if one acts on the panic while it is happening.
Coping With Panic Attacks
These episodes typically last ten minutes or less – but it may feel like hours to the person who experiences them.
As I mentioned earlier, my own panic attacks ceased after a few months. However, untreated panic attacks can worsen with time and blossom into panic disorders. Panic disorders are truly debilitating conditions in which the sufferer lives in fear of the next attack.
The most helpful technique I learned was how to calm myself down while undergoing an attack.
Calming myself during attack mean getting out of my emotions and into my head. To explain: while in a panic attack, you feel. Your body and mind are overwhelmed with feelings of fear and panic.The thinking part of your brain has shut down and you are 100% in feeling mode. Your goal is get out of feeling mode and back into thinking mode.
To do this, I would begin taking several deep breaths, forcing slow and regular breathing. While doing deep breathing, I would say to myself, ” I'm not interesting. This simple technique would help me to step back, figuratively speaking, and move back into thinking instead of pure feeling.
The first couple of times I used this technique, I was fortunate to have a nurse on hand to coach me through it. After that, I knew how to do it myself. In time, I learned to recognize the beginning of an episode very early and could begin to calm myself down immediately.
Preventing Future Panic Attacks
Some research suggests that there may be a genetic factor at play with panic attacks. However, there is also evidence suggesting that lifestyle and environmental issues can play a big role as well.
If you are prone to panic attacks, you can help keep your stress levels down by regular cardiovascular exercise and by avoiding caffeine, which can trigger panic.
T here may also be certain situations that trigger the attacks, although this was not true for me. Panic attacks may also present as phobias.
If you experience panic that is linked to an environmental factor, it seems sensible to avoid that particular situation. However, avoidance may not be the best solution. Your efforts to avoid, combined with your fear of having a panic attack are likely to increase the chances of one happening.
A wiser move is to seek help. Medications and / or cognitive behavioral therapy have proven helpful to many.
In recent years, I have become aware of a powerful new tool known as energy psychology. One variation of energy psychology, called Emotional Freedom Techniques or simply tapping, is amazingly effective at treating anxiety and panic. I use it for many things and teach it to others as well. Should I ever experience panic attacks again, this would be the first thing I would turn to. For more information about EFT and its uses with anxiety and panic , follow this link.