Harry is 34-year-old male, family man and a successful lawyer in a large company. A month ago, an hour before a big meeting for which he had been preparing for weeks, while he was going through his notes in his office he started to feel strange. In a matter of seconds he suddenly felt dizzy, could feel his heart beat dramatically increase and couldn’t catch his breath. He was terrified, started to sweat profusely and his hands were trembling. Once it was over and he caught his breath, he prescribed these symptoms to his worries about the meeting and didn’t give the entire experience a second thought.
Harry had his next panic attack two weeks later, and since then they’ve been occurring with increasing frequency. Now he is afraid because he doesn’t know when they may come back. It could be at home, in the courtroom, during a meeting or in public, and he refuses to take up new work, since he is scared that loads of work will cause them to come again.
Quite often the first panic attack can come unexpectedly and “out of the blue”. It can leave the person suffering from it scared and deeply shaken. They are also commonly associated to somatic symptoms and confused with heart attacks due to the fast heartbeat, sweating and shaking. This leads people to seek help from a cardiologist, rather than psychiatrist or psychologist. Panic attacks can occur again, and can be provoked by certain actions, stress, lack of sleep, or can even occur without any precipitating action. They can happen anytime, in any place and in any situation.
The key thing to remember, is that panic attacks will always pass. However, to truly overcome them it is important to learn how to react when panic attacks occur and feel confident in yourself when dealing with this condition.
When experiencing panic attacks, people are usually terrified, they freeze and feel helpless. By educating yourself about panic attacks – and specifically your panic attack – you can begin to gain control of the problem. You don’t have to live in fear and uncertainty any longer. Read on to learn some tips on how to recognize your panic attack and how to handle it best, and prevent it from happening again.
How to recognize a panic attack?
Recognizing your panic attack symptoms, can help you feel more in control while one is happening. Once you can recognize a panic attack, you can easily distinguish it from a heart attack, allergic reaction, or some other serious ailment. Providing yourself with this clarity can help you tackle your panic attack.
While some of the symptoms are more common, others are specific to each and every person suffering from panic attacks. By definition, a panic attack is a period of intense fear and interferes with your ability to function. Panic attacks are also very common, affect as many as 5% of the population in the United States. Additionally, they can run in the family and are also more common in women than men.
A panic attack can manifest as:
- intense fear
- shortness of breath
- choking sensations and nausea
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- chest pain
- fatigue and weakness
- lightheadedness and dizziness.
Other symptoms also include muscle spasms, an inability to move, a fear that you are going crazy or that you might die or be seriously ill. These symptoms are intense and can last for several minutes or up to an hour.
Coping with a panic attack
If you are experiencing a panic attack, if possible you should go somewhere safe, and away from operating machinery. If you are driving, you may need to pull over and park where it is safe while you let the experience pass.
Understand that panic attacks are a mind state, not necessarily an illness. A panic attack can be a very frightening and uncomfortable experience, but it is absolutely not dangerous. During the attack, remind yourself that symptoms and sensations are a sign of panic and will eventually pass. In order to easily remove the disturbing thought, try focusing on something visible such as items around you, or the time passing on your watch. Focusing on your breathing is also helpful. Try to decrease the speed of breathing as much as possible, and relax. Usually, the symptoms will peak within 10 minutes and will start to ease down, and most attacks will last between five minutes and half an hour. It is imperative that you remind yourself, this panic attack will pass.
Recovering from a panic attack can be difficult, it can leave you drained and worried for days and for some people even weeks. Some experience depression as a result of their panic attack and others focus on their physical symptoms so much that they feel like another attack is coming for days. Once the panic attack is over, you should remember to give yourself time to rest and recover. It is not your mind that is in a state of alertness during the attack, but your body too, and you should help yourself return the balance into your life. Doing things that relax you, exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy food can help ease your recovery.
Taking control over your panic attacks
In order to take control over what’s happening, you should start by looking in detail at your panic attacks. Recall the last few panic attacks and see what they have in common, were they related to any thought, feelings, actions which may have led to the panic attacks? Ask yourself:
- When did the panic attack occur?
- Where were you during your panic attack?
- What were you doing prior to your panic attack?
Answering these questions will help you recognize if there is a pattern which triggered your panic reaction. It is also help to log your panic attacks in a journal that way you have a visual representation of your experiences to reference. This can help you recognize panic attacks in the future and prepare you to act accordingly. By preparedness and removing the fear from the anticipating attack you are one step closer to putting the anxiety under control.
Being prepared is the best way to prevent panic attacks, and diminish their toll on your life. By recognizing the symptoms and what triggers your panic attacks you will be able to react appropriately. When you assure yourself that you can control them, your panic attacks will be a less and a less of a trouble. Always remember that no matter how scary they can be, the attacks are a state of mind and they will always pass, and that it is you who must control them, not the other way around.