Anyone who’s ever experienced a panic attack knows how scary and debilitating they can be. It’s a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety, a type of fear response that exaggerates your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement.
Symptoms of a panic attack
The symptoms of a panic attack are not usually dangerous but can be very frightening. Most panic attacks last from five minutes to half an hour. Symptoms usually peak at around the ten minute mark. They can seem to come out of the blue, or be triggered at night (say if you can’t sleep) or by places or people that make you feel more stressed. Symptoms include:
• sweating, trembling or shaking
• struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
• a racing heartbeat
• feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
• feeling very hot or very cold
• pain in your chest or abdomen
• feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings
• feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
Preventing a panic attack
It can help to identify your stressors to try and prevent a panic attack happening in the first place. There are a variety of things that you can do to minimise the chances of experiencing a panic attack, including:
- Eating regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking
- Regular exercise helps you to manage your stress levels
- Doing breathing exercises regularly helps to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
- Joining a support group can help you to meet others who deal with panic attacks and get support
- Using mental health/wellbeing apps such as Calm and Headspace can also help
Managing a panic attack
When a panic attack strikes, it can feel like you’re having a heart attack, or that you might faint or even die. Fortunately there are many things you can do to help yourself through a panic attack. Focussing on your breathing really helps, as well as focusing on your senses (eat something with a strong flavour/or stoke a favourite blanket/cushion). Some people find that stamping on the spot helps them to control their breathing. Grounding techniques can also help (anything that connects you to the present moment – walking barefoot/touching objects with different textures).
After you’ve had a panic attack, it’s a good idea to tell someone that it happened. It can help to let those around you know the signs so they can help you if it happens again. Also make sure you look after yourself afterwards – eat or drink something/take a nap.
What is panic disorder?
If you start experiencing numerous panic attacks and they don’t seem to have a particular trigger, then you might be suffering from panic disorder. If you’re constantly worried about when your next panic attack might be, this is another sign that you might have panic disorder. It’s common to experience panic disorder with other phobias, such as agoraphobia.
Psychological therapies can help you to identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks. I’m here to help if you are being affected by panic attacks or if you think it may have developed into a panic disorder.