I remember vividly the day I first had a panic attack. I was in high school, attending my math class, and about to take a quiz. I started feeling “sleepy” and was constantly yawning until it didn’t feel normal anymore. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off because I had an important test to take. But the feeling just wouldn’t go away, and things escalated quickly. My mind went into overdrive, overthinking what I was feeling. My heart was pounding faster than it ever did. My mind was clouded because I didn’t know what was going on and clearly had no idea what was happening to me. Thankfully I had my best friend and teachers to help me get better.
Later on, I calmed down but felt like my energy was sapped out of me. I was exhausted and ultimately puzzled about what had just happened. This led me to seek answers, and after spending several hours reading and researching, I discovered that what I had just experienced was a panic attack. This was a new term for me, and I was eager to learn more about it.
I’ve had a few more attacks since then. I have sought help and have taken proactive steps to manage and overcome these attacks. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I have learned various techniques and strategies that have helped me effectively control and stop panic attacks before they take hold.
I write this article with the hope of sharing my knowledge and experiences with others who may be going through similar struggles. If you are someone who is struggling with panic attacks, know that you are not alone and that there is help available. It can be a difficult and overwhelming journey, but with persistence and determination, you can get through it and find peace and calm again.
Panic Attacks: What Are They and Are They Real?
If this is your first time hearing about panic attacks, you might be wondering what they are. Apparently, they are sudden, intense, and overwhelming episodes of fear or anxiety that can be triggered by a variety of internal and external stimuli. The triggers of panic attacks can vary from person to person. However, if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or are more susceptible to panic attacks, understanding these things can help you better manage and prevent them from occurring.
Some common triggers of panic attacks include the following.
- Stress is the top cause of panic attacks. Stress can come from work, school, family, health, and many other things. When stress levels become too high, the body produces excessive stress chemicals such as adrenaline, which can cause a sudden panic attack.
- Illness or pre-existing health conditions can be a source of anxiety and stress, leading to physical changes. If your condition is severe, you may worry about your ability to care for loved ones and perform your daily activities. This can easily trigger a panic attack.
- If you’re a coffee lover, you may not like this one. Caffeine can actually worsen anxiety symptoms for some people. Caffeine has a stimulating effect and raises the heart rate, sometimes to a level that triggers a panic attack.
- Traumatic Events can leave a lasting impact, and even unexpected reminders can trigger a panic attack. Being faced with similar situations that evoke strong emotions from past traumatic events can trigger intense fear and physical reactions.
- Disagreements with loved ones or intense arguments can be a major trigger for panic attacks. Conflict and the pressure to resolve it can be highly stressful, as it can feel like you lack control over the outcome. Being in a situation where you are reliant on someone else to make peace can add an extra layer of stress and lead to a panic attack.
- Significant changes in one’s life can be stressful and overwhelming, leading to panic attacks. This can include a move to a new city, starting a new job, or even getting married. Sudden environmental changes can also trigger panic attacks. These sudden and unexpected changes can overwhelm the senses and trigger a fight-or-flight response in the body, leading to a panic attack.
When exposed to these triggers, the body assumes it is faced with immediate danger and activates the “flight or fight” response. There is a sudden release of chemicals in the body, including adrenaline, resulting in physical reactions such as a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, feelings of dizziness, trembling, intense sweating, and muscle tension. These attacks may be scary, but they are non-life threatening.
WAYS TO AVOID THE ONSET OF PANIC ATTACKS
According to Professor Paul Salkovskis from the University of Bath, it’s crucial to not let panic attacks rule your life. He states that panic attacks always come to an end and that the symptoms are just a result of anxiety and not a sign of any harm.
Recognizing the triggers and mechanisms behind panic attacks can help effectively manage and prevent them from happening. This involves finding what works for you and incorporating those strategies into your daily routine. Below are some strategies you can follow to help avoid the onset of panic attacks.
- Engaging in breathing exercises can help you control your attacks. Try to focus on deep breathing. Start by inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling after the count of four through your mouth. Continue to repeat the process until you feel calm and your breathing slows down.
- Acknowledge and accept what you’re experiencing. A panic attack can be very distressing, but it’s important to remember that the symptoms are temporary and you will get through them. By acknowledging that the feelings you’re experiencing are part of a panic attack, you can take away the fear that something more serious is happening.
- Follow mindfulness practices and relaxation. These techniques involve bringing your focus to the present while observing your thoughts and feelings without prejudice.This can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by using your mind to control your body’s response as much as possible.
- Practice regular exercise to manage stress and improve overall well-being. Slow-paced activities such as yoga and tai chi help to alleviate tension, enhance mood, and increase confidence.
- Maintain a balanced diet by having regular meals to regulate blood sugar levels. Steer clear of substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and smoking, as they have been known to exacerbate panic attacks.
Psychotherapy and Counseling
If you feel that you need a professional, choose from various psychotherapy and counseling sessions. These include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that involves talking about your thoughts and feelings with a mental health professional. CBT identifies and eliminates the patterns that underlie and cause panic attacks. This therapy allows you to understand the nature of the attack and develop strategies to counter and break the attack’s cycle.
- Cognitive therapy is another option for you. Compared to CBT, this therapy helps you identify and challenge negative thought patterns contributing to your attacks. During the sessions, your therapist helps reframe these thoughts positively and constructively, which can help to neutralize the negative impact of these thoughts, reducing symptoms of the attack.
- Exposure therapy is a treatment that gradually exposes you to your “fear” or triggers of your attack. Exposure therapy aims to help you overcome avoidance of your fear by learning to face them in a controlled and safe environment. With the support of a therapist, you can confront your fears and learn coping strategies to manage them effectively. Over time, this can lead to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and panic and an improvement in overall mental well-being.
WHEN TO TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL?
As mentioned, panic attacks may occur to a person once or twice in their lifetime. But, if this happens to you more often or is affecting your daily life, you might want to consider seeking professional help.
Additionally, you may consult with your healthcare provider if your panic attacks are accompanied by the following persistent symptoms:
- Chronic anxiety that disrupts your daily routine
- Difficulty in focusing
- Excessive irritability
- Intense fear of leaving your home
- Panic attack symptoms lasting longer than 15 minutes
- Disruptive sleep patterns.
There are many options when seeking professional help but we believe we have a unique, holistic, and neuroscience based approach to mental health that can help the world be a happier and healthier place. Schedule a free Complimentary Consultation with us today.
Twelve years had passed since my first panic attack happened. I look back at it now and can’t believe it’s still stashed away in my memory. It proves that the first times are always memorable, and however puzzling and scary that moment was to me, I’m glad I can move past it now. If you’re in the same boat as me, I believe you can overcome that hurdle too. I hope this article has served its purpose and has helped you.