Panic Attacks

A panic attack can be a very scary experience where you have an episode of feeling overwhelmed by fear or anxiety. It is a very uncomfortable place to be in and what is experienced is a combination of mental and physical symptoms.

People will experience an intense apprehension or fear despite their circumstances being quite ordinary. People feel and become aware of their heart rate rising. They might experience sweating, trembling or shaking. Chest pain and shoulder and arm pain seems to duplicate signs of heart attack. Feeling like vomiting or the need to go to the toilet or just a sense of being in an unreal out of body state like de’juvu, are all physical and mental signs of a panic attack.

These symptoms can last up to 10 minutes. They can last for as little as seconds or a couple of minutes or 30 or 60 minutes.  Sometimes they move like waves through a day coming and going. The waves of panic also move with varying degrees of intensity and different physical symptoms.

Some of the problems with panic attacks is that it makes people believe that they are really odd or strange or going insane. This is certainly not the case and statistically 1 in 5 people will have an experience of a panic attack in their lives. If anything, it means a lot of people are keeping very quiet about it!

Another problem with Panic attacks is that people can also get into avoiding ordinary every day events out of a fear of having a public panic attack. They avoid going out or even being in the company of people.

In talking with some people about their experience of panic attacks they will sometimes mention spending time thinking on their inadequacies and comparing themselves to particular people or groups of people. Other people will talk about the high or idealistic or romantic notions that they have invested in some person or social event or place or ceremony. The theme of avoidance and escape into fantasy can also be part of those conversations when discussing precursors to panic attacks in counselling. Fear is the engine room of panic attacks. I remember growing up and if you were on your push bike you could invariable hear the sound of an approaching car because its engine was distinct and loud. Car engines have become so sophisticated now and muffling systems so tuned that pedestrians or cyclists have to be doubly cautious, because the warning noises are hard to detect. Panic attacks are a bit like that as well. They come quickly and without apparent signs or warning. Detecting and hearing the fear from a distance and naming the dimensions of it also goes along way in dealing effectively with panic attack and anxiety.

What are some useful strategies in dealing with Panic attacks?

Very useful to talk with someone who understands and does not view your panic attack as strange or that you need to snap out of it.

Remind yourself that the attack is only temporary. Some people have found distraction and doing something that is reassuring really helpful. Watching some mindless television, listening to the radio, internet surfing (just avoid Googling up Panic attacks or heart attacks) In fact anything that is distracting. Distraction works because the subject material producing the anxiety is focused away from the thoughts and physical sensations.

Some people find it useful to restructure their thinking by writing or just thinking through the evidence as to why they should be so panicked. This process invites people to ask the question, what am I really in danger from? What catastrophe am I really facing? What is the worst possible thing that is going to happen to me?

Relaxing or learning to relax is a lost art in our busy world and sometimes needs to be relearnt or even taught for the first time. Relaxation has three methods that seem to produce some relief from the demanding thoughts and dynamic effect of panic attacks. They include progressive muscle relaxation, controlled breathing and imagery.

I have already mentioned the potency of avoidance which can generate panic attacks. Mental avoidance of tasks or conversations or matters that cannot be put off are a universal culprit in panic attacks and I think a lot of mental health issues.