Seemingly out of nowhere my heart starts racing, I have difficulty breathing and I feel sick and faint. At the same time there is an overwhelming sense of dread, a feeling that something terrible is happening to me. I may even feel like I am are going to die. Once the feeling subsides it can leave me exhausted, shaky and confused. What has happened? And then the fear sets in. Will this happen again? When will it happen? Where will it happen? I start to avoid places and situations that I fear will trigger my panic.
For many people this experience is all too familiar. A significant number of people will experience a panic attack at some time in their lives and some will have them repeatedly. People can experience panic attacks in different ways but some of the most common symptoms include pounding heart, dizziness, nausea, headache, shakiness, disconnection from surroundings, distortion of sights and sounds and feelings of terror and impending danger.
People can often feel helpless in the face of panic. But there are some simple things to remember that can help to lessen the discomfort and work towards getting rid of panic attacks for good.
1. Understand what is happening
The symptoms associated with a panic attack are uncomfortable, but they are not dangerous, and they do not pose any threat. A feeling of panic is connected to a surge of adrenaline in the bloodstream. This is a primitive survival mechanism designed to escape danger. However, during a panic attack the fight or flight response is triggered when there is no real danger. Unpleasant as they may be, the symptoms are the result of a natural process in the body designed to keep us safe.
2. Wait it out
The average panic attack will last 5-10 minutes, and many will be shorter. The feelings, however intense, cannot remain but will gradually reduce. Keeping in mind the phrase ‘this will pass’ during an attack can be helpful and calming.
3. Keep breathing
This may sound obvious, but many people hold their breath or breathe too quickly when experiencing fear and anxiety. This will increase the feeling of suffocation often experienced during a panic attack and may actually trigger or prolong an attack.
4. Turn and face the panic
This can be hard but avoiding the places that trigger a panic attack will only reinforce the fear and anxiety. Only by experiencing the symptoms will the body begin to recognise that there is no threat and the adrenaline response will subside.
5. Take some time to reflect on lifestyle
Have there been high levels of stress lately or are there stressful events or issues from the past that may still be unresolved? Is enough time been taken to unwind? Are feelings being expressed or are they bottled up? Exploring these aspects can help increase self-awareness and overall understanding of what may be triggering an attack.
6. Talk about it
Coping with panic attacks can be challenging. Many people try to hide what is happening and this can worsen their anxiety. Talking about what is happening with someone you trust can be a relief and will hopefully provide some support.
7. Tell people what you need
If someone is experiencing panic attacks it may be helpful for those around them to understand what they find most or least helpful. Remember, if someone doesn't seem to understand that doesn't mean they don't care. Communicating clearly what the experience is like and how they can help will give them the best chance of being supportive.
8. Don't allow an attack to ruin the rest of the day
Panic attacks can leave a person tired and fed up. It may seem easier to curl up in bed and avoid the world for a while but this only prolongs the feelings and creates isolation. It is important to get on with the rest of the day as much as possible.
9. Be kind
Panic attacks are nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes people can be their own harshest critics. Imagine if a friend or family member were experiencing the same thing. Think of the concern and sympathy which might be felt towards them. People who can feel compassion and love for themselves in this way will often find the process less painful than those who blame themselves.
10. Remember many people share the same experience
Many people experience panic attacks but it's common for people to keep these experiences private. The chances are that many people around us have had similar experiences but have chosen not to share this fact.
I know that life can seem like a struggle when we are living with panic. Remember that research shows a large number of people can learn to cope with panic and eliminate attacks for good.
I am always happy to talk about how life can be better.
Make a change today.
Have a great week,
Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Portlaoise, Co. Laois