‘I’m terrified another panic hits me. I thought I was going to die when I had that last one. It came out of the blue – I couldn’t get a breath, my heart felt like it was going to burst. I felt that I was going to faint. I was drenched in sweat and I felt sick. At it’s worst point, I thought I was dying. It was the worst feeling I have ever had’
The two most important facts about Panic Attacks
1.They are terrifying
2.They are not dangerous
One in three people will get a panic attack. There are the panic attacks that we can predict for example when out in a crowded space and the ones that we can’t predict that come out of the blue e.g. driving the car.
Panic Attacks affect the way we think, how we behave and how our body reacts.
How panic effects our Bodies:
Panic Attacks trigger our primitive ‘Flight, Fight & Freeze’ adrenaline response. This powerful adrenaline hormone cause our body to respond and we can experience the following: Palpitations, Heart racing, Nausea, Tingling, Numbness, Vision change, Breathless, Smothering, Choking, Chest pain/tightness, Hot/cold flushes, Muscle tension, Shaking, Dizziness, Unreal feeling, Dry mouth, Urge to get to toilet, to name but a few – Most people have their own particular experience.
How panic effects our thoughts:
We can have a sudden rush of intense fear, a strong sense of losing control
and a strong sense that something awful is about to happen to us.
Common thoughts during panic include: I’m losing my mind - I’m having a heart attack - I’m going mad - I’m going to die - I’m going to do something stupid - I’m going to faint
How panic effects our Actions / Behaviours :
Commonly people who experience panic can avoid places (e.g. supermarket, church), doing things (running), and often stay in a safety zone (e.g. will only drive if other person in the car). A common response to panic is to use Avoidance / Escape for example Avoiding staying alone, Avoiding being far from home – avoiding foreign holidays – Avoiding busy places, Avoiding physical exertion, Avoiding getting emotional.
Causes of Panic attacks: The exact causes are unclear, but there does seem to be a connection with stressful life events – bereavement , illness, redundancy etc that are potentially stressful: possible genetic predisposition.
Furthermore physical and psychological causes of panic disorder can work together. Although initially attacks may come out of the blue, eventually the sufferer may actually help bring them on by responding to physical symptoms of an attack. For example, if a person with panic experiences a racing heartbeat caused by drinking coffee or exercising might interpret this as a symptom of an attack and, because of their anxiety, actually bring on the attack.
Consequences of Panic Attacks: Recurring panic attacks can take an emotional toll. The memory of the intense fear and terror that you felt during the attacks can negatively impact your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life. Additionally panic disorders can often lead to other complications such as phobias, depression, substance abuse, and even medical complications. Its effects can range from mild social impairment to a total inability to face the outside world. In fact, the phobias that people with panic disorder develop do not come from fears of actual objects or events, but rather from fear of having another attack. In these cases, people will avoid certain objects or situations because they fear that these things will trigger another attack – often this is called FEAR OF FEAR.
Treatment: A good work up from your GP is recommended to exclude underlying issues e.g. thyroid problems. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the most effective form of treatment for panic attacks. Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviours that are sustaining or triggering the panic attacks. In my clinic treatment for Panic Attacks lasts approx 6- 8 sessions with and individuals attending report excellent outcomes.
Self help tips:
Control your breathing: Hyperventilation brings on many sensations that occur during a panic attack. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can relieve the symptoms of panic. By learning to control your breathing, you develop a coping skill that you can use to calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious.
Avoid the ‘C’ – caffeine, coke and smoking: these substances can provoke panic attacks to those who are susceptible to them already.
Relax: Practicing relaxation activities such as yoga and meditation will help strengthen the body’s relaxation response – the opposite of the stress response involved in anxiety and panic.
How will doing this affect me in the long term?
Don’t avoid situations – go anyway.
Problem solve or make plans if necessary.
Take things slowly or gradually.
Focus attention outside of me – external rather than internal focus.
What’s the best thing to do?
Is this threat a real one or is it really bound to happen?
Am I exaggerating the threat? Am I misreading things?
I feel bad, but that doesn’t mean things really are so bad.
What would someone else say about this?
What would I say to a friend in this situation?
What would be a more helpful way of looking at things?
Where’s my focus of attention?
I can cope with these feelings, I’ve got through it before. This will pass.
Imagine yourself coping in a situation that you feel anxious about. See the situation through to a successful completion
Dr Eddie will give an inspiring talk on Wednesday, September 19 in Mountmellick Community Arts Centre @ 8.00pm – ‘Healthy Minds & Healthy Bodies - Tackling Anxiety & Depression and Becoming Your Real Self’.
This is a free event, all are welcome.