A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that comes on for no apparent reason. Make no mistake about it, they can be so bad that if you have never experienced one before (and sometimes even if you have!) you can feel like you are having a heart attack, or dying. Their onset is usually around early adulthood and can be associated with a transitional time in life, a major stressful event, or a series of smaller events that when combined, create an overwhelming feeling of stress. There is also a genetic predisposition attributed to panic attacks.
I first experienced one when living with my boyfriend who had some pretty serious plans of marriage, I wanted to travel (alone!). I awoke in the middle of the night, to feel as if someone or something was pressing heavily on my chest, I was overwhelmed, panic-stricken and completely clueless as to what was happening. In hindsight, I did listen to my body, and soon-after bought a one way ticket overseas. The panic attacks left me alone .... for a few years anyway, but were to resurface later when I had a car accident. Subsequently, each time I drove over the same piece of highway, the hyperventilation (rapid breathing which puts more oxygen into your bloodstream than what you need, leaving you feeling dizzy, light-headed and disorientated) would begin. Then I would get more upset thinking that I was going to lose control and crash, which would perpetuate the panic.
In an acute attack, there are only two things that can calm you. a) a pair of arms to hold you and tell you that this too shall pass, and b) a sturdy, brown paper bag to breathe into.
Symptoms of Panic attacks:
- Racing heartbeat,
- the feeling that your chest is compressed and you can't get enough air to breathe
- disorientation, a feeling of being detached from what is happening around you
- nausea, shaking, sweating
- a tingling, or chilling feeling
- fear that you may be dying or having a heart attack
Only a licensed therapist can diagnose Panic Disorder, or panic attacks. However, many people can be wrongly diagnosed before finding relief from this disorder. If you have a family member who suffers from anxiety or depression, you are more likely to suffer with panic attacks, ethnic minorities are more likely to be pre-disposed and women are twice as likely to suffer from attacks than men.
The good news is that Panic attacks are highly treatable with a variety of available therapies such as cognitive therapy, breathing and relaxation techniques, controlled exposure, hypnosis or meditation or medications such as beta-blockers and antidepressants . Untreated panic attacks can develop into Panic Disorder, depression, 'situational avoidance', suicidal feelings, phobias, substance abuse and medical complications. In many cases, with a bit of quiet time to yourself, and a good, long, honest look at your life and how you are behaving, you might discover that the 'panic attack of unknown origin' has quite a definite reason for appearing in your life. Something or someone may be the cause, and this could be your body's way of letting you know that you need to make some adjustments in your lifestyle, career, family or relationship.
A few further words of advice:
Be careful who you discuss Panic attacks with, choose someone who is experienced and successful in treating them, or a friend that has had a similar experience so that they can truly understand what you are going through and not make light of it.
Don't let people dismiss this condition lightly, it is not simply nerves or stress it is a recognised medical condition that can worsen without proper treatment.
Do avoid caffeine and other stimulants - coke, coffee, sugar, chocolate, energy drinks. These will only exacerbate your symptoms, if you want to make a major change in your life, then order one of the books below from Amazon, Kathleen DeMaisons' writing is groundbreaking and has helped so many people recover from anxiety, addicton, depression and blood sugar problems.
If all else fails, don't forget exercise! Get your sneakers on and Run Forest Run!