You already know a panic attack can make your life significantly difficult. But what exactly is the definition? A panic attack is described as an episode of intense fear which can be triggered by severe stress, for example, a major life change such as the death of a loved one or a traumatic experience such as sexual assault. What makes Panic Attacks different from an episode of high-anxiety is that during a Panic attack you’ll experience an intense fear, for example of dying, losing control or collapsing, which is not normally experience during heightened anxiety episodes. This and other symptoms are the focus of Panic Attack Treatment.
What Are The Symptoms Of a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks come with frightening symptoms:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilating
- Fastened heartbeat
- Feeling ill and lightheaded
- Feeling out of control or like you’re about to die (distinctive sign of a panic attack!)
- Tingling sensation in your fingers or lips
- Shaking and sweating
- Chest pain
Symptoms vary from person to person but most people experience a mix of them. Since these symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, it’s not uncommon to confuse one condition for the other. The difference is that a heart attack commonly occurs during physical exertion and worsens over time, while a panic attack can occur suddenly and resolves within 20 minutes.
What Does A Panic Attack Do To Your Body?
During An Attack
Panic attacks might make you feel crazy and out of control. You might even believe you’re about to die. Do you ever wonder what’s happening in your body while you’re dealing with these unpleasant symptoms? Educating yourself on the nature of panic attacks is the first step to learning how to manage them.
The response starts in the amygdala which is the brain’s area responsible for perceiving a threat. Once the danger has been recognised, the amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus that controls the autonomic nervous system. The fight-or-flight response becomes activated, and your body releases hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline that are designed to cope with a threat. This is when the symptoms start; your muscles tense and your palms sweat. Your heartbeat gets faster and blood pressure increases which provides your muscles with more oxygen.
The problem is that your mind will react with more and more anxiety upon detecting this internal activation: this is the vicious cycle that causes the escalation of emotional, psychological and physical symptoms that makes panic attacks so scary!
After an Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack tend to peak and then slowly fade away. However, even when the most severe symptoms have gone away, you might still experience muscle tension, anxiety and exhaustion. If you experience panic attacks regularly, it might mean you’re dealing with panic disorder that can have several long-term effects on your body:
- Weakened immune system
- Chronic muscle tension
What Can You Do To Manage A Panic Attack?
1) Try to focus on your breathing
Focus on breathing slowly through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. Try to take deeper breaths and breathe using your stomach.
2) Tell yourself it will pass
Acknowledge the panic attack instead of trying to distract yourself. Remember that it’s not a life-threatening reaction and it will pass eventually.
3) Reach out to someone close
If you realise you’re having a panic attack, reach out to a friend or family member, even if they’re not present, and tell them what’s going on with you. Try to reassure them that you’re aware you’re only having a panic attack and you simply want someone to be with you during this experience.
How To Calm Down After A Panic Attack?
1) Focus on your surroundings
A panic attack can be a surrealistic experience that leaves you feeling like you’re about to die. Once the worst is over, try to bring yourself back to the present using a grounding technique, such as by observing and naming the objects around you. Remind yourself where you are, with whom, what you were doing and what you’ll do next.
2) Reach out to a loved one
Talking to someone who can offer support will put you at ease and help you distract yourself from negative feelings.
3) Visualise yourself in a safe space
A panic attack might make you feel uneasy so it’s important that you imagine yourself somewhere safe. You could also recall a happy memory.
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How To Prevent A Panic Attack?
1) Guided meditation
Meditation aims to clear your mind and relieve anxiety. Find one that helps you relax and try to listen to it regularly.
2) Regular exercises
Regular exercise can do wonders for your mental health. It doesn’t only boost your mood and reduce stress but improves sleep quality too. Tthat’s essential to keep anxiety at bay.
3) Improve your diet
Avoid food and beverages that can cause anxiety such as caffeine. Try to eat healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables.
4) Practise positive affirmations
Positive affirmations are statements that can help you overcome negative thoughts. You could start from something simple like; ‘’I’m going to be okay.”
5) Get Treatment for Panic Attacks working with a trained Therapist
If you notice panic attacks returning, it might be a sign of Panic Disoder. Even if you’ve had just a few episodes, working with a clinician will allow you to explore the reasons behind your attacks as well as learning the strategies to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.
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Tips To Feel Better After A Panic Attack
1) Listen to favourite music or watch a favourite show
When you feel vulnerable, it’s a good idea to do something that brings comfort. It could be listening to a song you like, watching a favourite show or eating your favourite food.
2) Have a hot bath
A panic attack can make you feel mentally exhausted and detached from reality. Having a hot bath will relax you and help you focus on the pleasant physical sensation.
3) Go outside
Another way to bring yourself back to the present is going for a walk. Light exercise will have a calming effect and focusing on the world around you will help you distract from anxious thoughts.
4) Reach out to a loved one
Even when a panic attack ends, the anxiety might still linger. Talking through your feelings to a close friend or a family member can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Dealing With Panic Attacks In The Long-Run
Panic attacks can be a debilitating condition that impairs your daily functioning. However, you don’t have to go through this alone. Apart from following the tips mentioned above, you can consider receiving professional treatment. Read more about Panic Attack Treatment here.
Contact us for a free 15 min consultation. We’re here to help.