Stressful situations are a part of our everyday lives, and we all experience moments of anxiety or panic in response to being exposed to stressful or dangerous circumstances. However, for some of us, this can happen far more frequently and can take over our lives. Panic attacks occur when the body experiences a sudden rush of fear and anxiety. Panic attacks often occur without warning and for no obvious reason. A panic attack usually lasts 5-10 minutes but some can come in waves over periods of up to 2 hours. The occasional panic attack is medically not considered to be concerning, but recurring attacks often lead to a diagnosis of panic disorder.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
In addition to the crippling anxiety that occurs during a panic attack, sufferers may also experience symptoms including:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Feelings of being detached from themselves
- Fear of dying
Despite the presence of these physical symptoms, panic attacks are not the result of a physiological issue e.g. a heart or lung problem. These symptoms occur because the body has essentially entered ‘fight or flight’ mode and has responded to this by producing an overdrive of nervous impulses from the brain to other parts of the body. This is perfectly natural when we are exposed to dangerous or threatening situations and need to react accordingly. However, for the panic attack sufferer, this can occur at any time.
How to Cope with Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be very frightening, but there are steps you can take to control your panic attacks:
- Do your research– understanding what panic attacks actually are and being aware of the symptoms you experience will allow you to identify when you are experiencing a panic attack. You will be able to recognise that it is not a serious physiological problem. This can help you to focus on gaining control of your panic attack by ensuring your worry is not exacerbated by concerns over your health.
- Visit your GP– if you are worried about your panic attacks, speak to your GP. If your panic attacks are occurring frequently, you may receive a diagnosis of panic disorder, which can be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.
- Take control– if you can understand what causes you to feel stressed or anxious, you may find that you are able to control your panic attacks. Instead of avoiding what makes you anxious, try to take steps to deal with your anxiety. Counselling or Psychotherapy should be able to support you to do this effectively.
- Focus on your breathing– breathing and relaxation techniques can be very effective when dealing with panic attacks. Practicing Mindfulness is an excellent way of using breathing to heal the mind.
- Sleep, Exercise and eat a healthy diet– a healthy lifestyle with a good diet, exercise and enough sleep can help you to relax and deal with stress effectively.
- Remember that a panic attack will not hurt you- despite how awful your physical symptoms feel, they will not harm you.
Written by Jennifer McElroy