Panic Disorder & Panic Attacks
Have you ever felt so frightened that you felt you would pass out? But you didn’t.
Have you ever felt so scared that you thought you would throw up? But you didn’t.
Have you ever felt so doubtful that you thought you couldn’t walk? But you did.
If you have ever felt any of the above, chances are that you were having a panic attack. Defined as a sudden or gradual escalation of intense fear resulting in several disturbing and uncomfortable symptoms which can include heart palpitations, breathlessness, sweating and trembling.
The good news is that no one has ever passed or died from a panic attack. The bad news is that when you are having one, you don’t really care about the previous statement.
Let’s see what the symptoms can be, as they often vary depending on the circumstances.
Any or all of these can apply:
|Intense overall fear||Palpitations||Shaking & Trembling|
|Intense fear of dying||Sweating||Chills or Hot Flashes|
|Chest pains||Coughing or Choking||Numbness or tingling|
|Dizziness, Faint, or Unsteadiness||Feeling in a daze||Loss of Breath|
The overall fear is that something terrible, drastic or detrimental is going to happen at any given second.
Although panic attacks are usually experienced suddenly, they can have a gradual escalation of up to 5 minutes or more. At it’s worse, or peak, the general time is 10 minutes.
So what is actually happening to the body while the mind runs free through fear?
The body’s normal coping mechanisms in times of stress is the ‘fight or flight response’. This is the body’s inbuilt normal ‘go to’ when it thinks it is being threatened or is under attack. This normal inbuilt strategy is triggered at a time when you are not actually in danger, but the mind has perceived that you are in danger. And this is when it becomes confusing.
The term ‘Panic Disorder’ is often used for this reason; the mind and body are ‘disordered’ in their way of assimilating their environment and have misconstrued the perceived threat. And if they occur often, then it is treated as a disorder. Because of this condition, your every day life and how you live it can be disrupted. If you have a panic attack before you go to work, for instance, depending on its severity, you may never get out the front door. This could lead to other challenges such as agoraphobia (fear of being outdoors for fear of a panic attack). You could attempt to avoid leaving home for long periods of time.
Am I the Only One?
Anxiety Disorder accounts for 30% of mental health problems in the UK. It is more common in women than in men, and usually starts in early or late teens.
How Is It Treated?
Treatments for anxiety are varied and include medication and therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been shown to be very effective in its treatment as it focuses on the thoughts behind your fear which directly dictates how you behave.
Applied Relaxation can be helpful. Guided Visualisations can be practiced several times a day to help you become used to relaxing your mind and body. Mindfulness is very helpful to re-train the mind to be in control of your thoughts.
Your GP may prescribe anti-anxiety medications such as SSRI’s (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which help to increase the level of serotonin, the ‘feel good’ factor in your brain. Some can be taken long term, but as with all medications, it should be monitored with regular check-ups with your GP.
Sedatives are another alternative and this can be discussed in detail with your GP. In some cases they are very helpful. You can discuss side-affects and other factors with your GP.
Your anxiety started for a reason. It is not always necessary to discover the reason, and you may already know how and why it began. Challenging your thoughts with support and guidance from a professional, coupled with relaxation can be an effective treatment.
What Is Helpful?
|Yoga||Therapy (CBT, Psychotherapy)||Staying active|
|Exercise||Support groups||Hobbies you enjoy|
What is Unhelpful?
|Smoking||Focusing on the problem||Staying up without sleep|
|Unhealthy eating||Watching disturbing movies||Ignoring the problem|
People do learn to live with ‘free-floating’ anxiety. They make a plan and stick to it. You can do the same. Support is widely available on line through various networks and support groups.
Be active in your decision to become anxiety-free. And you may notice that before you are fully aware, you’re no longer anxious.
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