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Panic No More: How to Manage Panic Attacks

Panic attack is when a person suddenly feels worried to the point that they want to escape even though there's no real threats. / Photo by: AJR_photo via Shutterstock

 

In times of danger, the body’s “fight or flight” response gets triggered involuntarily. However, there are situations wherein this kind of reaction from the body gets activated for no apparent reason. When this happens, a sudden feeling of dread and worry begins to overcome the person. Fear is felt so strongly, that there is a sense of wanting to escape from something even when no threats are actually present. This is what occurs when a person experiences a panic attack.

According to iwantmylifetochange.org, five percent of adults have experienced a panic attack at least once in their lifetime. Excessive worrying may lead a person to have a panic disorder. Individuals who are affected by a severe panic disorder may abstain from their usual activities because they are afraid that another panic attack may strike them.

 

Panic Attack Definition

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” Ten minutes before the panic attack disappears, it tends to heighten, the Depression Alliance says.

Recurring panic attacks can harm a person’s psychological and emotional health. Having panic attacks makes it more likely for an individual to acquire other psychological conditions.

 

Causes

Panic attacks can be prompted by a host of risk factors and causes, which include:

Chronic stress

Constantly experiencing stress for a year is often enough to trigger a person’s panic attacks. When a lot of stress has been piled up, any stimuli can induce a panic attack. Even though a person is able to deal with the intense stress they are currently going through, if their stress increases, their brain will be under too much pressure. This will push the body to go into “fight or flight” mode, which causes it to give off adrenaline. As a result, their anxiety will escalate and could possibly progress into a panic disorder.

Catastrophizing

When someone catastrophizes, they are expecting the worst to happen. Most catastrophizing thoughts that cause panic attacks are related to health worries, such fearing that one would get a heart attack or that they may be losing their mind.

Traumatic events

Individuals who have been subject to traumatic events in their childhood are also susceptible to panic attacks. Examples of traumatic experiences may include witnessing their parents die or have an illness, experiencing family violence, being separated from their parents and seeing their parents have marital issues or divorce.

Being afraid of a heart attack

Nervously anticipating a heart attack noted to be one of the most common causes of having a panic attack. Having a hard time breathing and feeling chest pain can be interpreted as having a heart attack. However, these are also symptoms of hyperventilation and anxiety.

Substance abuse

The use of some substances can cause one’s anxiety to heighten and in turn, also puts a person at more risk of suffering a panic attack. Substances such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana worsen anxiety, and people who are affected by anxiety disorder are advised to avoid these.

Medical Causes

A panic attack may also be prompted by other medical conditions. Some of the illnesses that are known to cause this are dementia, asthma, anemia, overactive thyroid, prolapse, inflammatory bowel disease, and COPD. It is suggested that the patient consult a physician to assess if any of these health problems actually cause their panic attacks or not. It is vital to note that anxiety is usually caused by the lack of proper coping skills and substances, rather than other health issues.

Symptoms

Those who suffer from panic attacks will display many symptoms such as experiencing a shallowness of breathing, chest pain, feeling nauseous, chills or hot flashes, shaking, feeling dizzy, the fear that disaster will come upon them, being afraid of choking, numbness, the sensation that they are detached from reality or themselves and sweating. If an individual experiences at least four of the symptoms, then it is a sign that they are experiencing a panic attack.

In the middle of a panic attack, a person may feel like escaping and feel that something bad is about to happen. If they are experiencing at least four panic attacks within four weeks or have one or more panic attacks accompanied by the fear of having another panic attack in within a month, this is already considered as a panic disorder.

The apprehension of incoming panic attacks which individuals with panic disorder feel may cause behavioral changes. For instance, they may choose to stay away from some places or situations or they may be concerned about the potential effects of a panic attack. They may feel afraid that while having a panic attack, they will get embarrassed, not be able to control themselves or that it will lead to their death. The fear and anxiety they experience as a result of this can become very restrictive to them and may also cause them to have dramatic changes in personality such isolating themselves more often, becoming more dependent and being more passive.  

Dealing With Panic Attacks

There are five suggested ways to manage panic attacks:

1. Lessen caffeine and alcohol consumption and stop smoking.

2. Check if over-the-counter medications like cold medications have stimulants in them. Stimulants may cause anxiety.

3. Practice relaxation and stress management strategies. Learn how to gain better coping skills.

4. Eliminate any medical conditions that be triggering panic attacks.

5. Seek the assistance of a professional and discuss with them the anxiety they feel. Recognize negative thought patterns that may be the cause of anxiety.

Treatment

The three most recommended approaches for treating panic attacks are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), anti-anxiety medication and stress-management meditation. Other suggested ways of treatment are Exposure and Response Prevention, Yoga Therapy and exercise. Those who suffer from panic attacks are advised to consult a therapist as early as possible, to prevent further complications such a decline in academic or work performance or resorting to suicide.

 

People suffering from panic attacks should consult a therapist to prevent further complications / Photo by: Dmytro Zinkevych via Shutterstock

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