Whether you are coping with anxiety that results in an occasional panic attack, or you have panic disorder and are constantly at the mercy of debilitating attacks, it’s important to have strategies in place to help you deal with panic attacks as they come. Panic attacks can happen any time, and the fear of having one alone is almost enough to trigger one!
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Panic attacks vary in their intensity, but here are a list of common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, hyperventilation, a feeling of not having enough oxygen
- Racing heartbeat, palpatations
- Shaking, trembling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain or discomfort
- A feeling of being detached from your surroundings, feeling foggy, detachment from reality
Because of the often debilitating nature of a panic attack, the person who suffers from them may have a persistent fear of them happening. Experiencing a panic attack while driving or working can be dangerous. Having a panic attack at school or at a party can feel embarrassing. It’s not unusual for persons with panic disorder to isolate, staying home out of fear of having an attack. They may have difficulty staying employed, and it may take a toll on relationships.
Identifying The Cause Of a Panic Attack
Some people are aware that they have specific triggers that cause panic attacks. For example, some people may have a panic attack getting on a plane, or in certain social situations, or around certain people. For some, excess stress or overwhelm can trigger it. Knowing what your triggers are is important, because you can try to avoid them, or develop a strategy for dealing with the situation so a panic attack doesn’t happen. Some people elect to take an anti-anxiety medication before flying. Some people try exposure therapy to help them no longer have panic attacks when exposed to a certain stimuli. These are good solutions, but for many people, there doesn’t seem to be a specific trigger, and an attack can happen at any time. This is why it’s a good idea to develop a plan of action to help stop or minimize a panic attack just as it’s happening.
Stopping A Panic Attack Before It Escalates
SInce it’s not always possible to prevent a panic attack from occurring, it’s important to have a way to deal with them, and possibly nip the attack in the bud. The longer it goes, the worse it tends to get. For some people, a panic attack can be so severe that the person actually feels like they are dying.
Medication is a common treatment for panic disorder, but most anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines, which have a high potential for abuse and addiction, and may cause a variety of unpleasant side effects, such as cognitive decline and short-term memory loss. For those who want to manage anxiety and panic disorder without medication, here are some tips for getting a handle on an attack:
- When you begin to experience the symptoms, it’s helpful to remind yourself that although intensely uncomfortable, panic attacks aren’t dangerous. While you may feel as though you are having a heart attack or about to lose consciousness, you aren’t. Remind yourself of that. Remember, this is just your body’s natural fight or flight response being activated.
- Ground yourself by engaging your tactile senses. Put your hands on a wall, or hold something on your hand and focus on the texture of it. This helps especially if you tend to feel detached from reality during an attack.
- Write down what you are experiencing as it happens. This engages a different part of your brain, and can help calm you. It also puts the experience in perspective.
- Take a shower, brush your hair, go for a walk around the block or hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can. These are all distractions. The more you focus on the attack, the worse it will get.
Remember also that the fear of an attack itself can actually trigger anxiety that leads to the attack. If you notice yourself feeling anxious, you may start to worry that you are about to have a panic attack. This elevates your anxiety, and can actually bring on the attack.
Remember that panic attacks are fairly common. People have them. They are not dangerous, no matter how they feel. Once you stop fearing them as much, there is a good chance you will experience them less often. Ongoing therapy can help, as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and support groups. Because so many people are embarrassed by their panic attacks, a support group is a good way to not feel so alone.
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