Having a panic attack can be frightening experience. They usually happen without warning and are characterized by a sudden rush of physical symptoms and uncontrollable fear. The American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) says the symptoms of a panic attack generally take place over 20-30 minutes. However, the attack itself may last less than a minute. Some of the symptoms associated with a panic attack are:
- Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- Chest pains
- Stomach cramps or nausea
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Shaking or trembling
- Numbness or tingling
- Fear of losing control or dying
People who have panic attacks may only experience one or two episodes in their lifetime, although the majority have reoccurring attacks creating a panic disorder. This can be caused by social phobia, depression or an anxiety disorder. Panic attacks can also happen when an individual is dealing with a lot of stress at work or home, suffering from a lack of sleep or exercise, or recovering from a painful incident.
Most people don’t know they have a panic disorder initially because the symptoms mimic other health issues such as heart disease, respiratory problems, thyroid issues, etc. Sometimes there are a number of trips to the emergency room before a panic disorder is diagnosed.
Individuals dealing with panic attacks are left feeling frustrated and uncertain because they don’t understand why these episodes are happening or how to prevent them from occurring again. They live in fear wondering when and where the “next shoe is going to drop,” making it hard to relax and enjoy life. Sometimes locations or situations are avoided in an attempt to prevent an attack.
Regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable. To help bring your life back into balance, try some of the following suggestions:
- Learn to recognize triggers by understanding how your body and mind respond to certain types of stimuli. This will help you develop a better response when you become anxious, and may even help to prevent an attack altogether.
- If you feel yourself becoming overly anxious, use diversionary tactics such as going for a walk or some other type of exercise. Maintaining a light exercise regimen such as aerobics or yoga produces endorphins which has a positive effect on how you feel overall. Reading, watching TV, or listening to music can also be helpful diversions.
- Live a healthy lifestyle by always eating breakfast and continuing with healthy meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your blood sugar elevated. Be sure to also reduce alcohol and nicotine, and get plenty of sleep each night.
- Relax your breathing and muscles by closing your eyes and taking deep breaths through your nose. Visualize yourself in a serene location such as a stream with the water flowing gently by, or the shoreline with gently cresting waves.
Finally, consult with a mental health professional. Depending on the severity of the panic attacks, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) may be recommended. Your therapist can help you work out a plan to help ward off future panic attacks and put you back in control of your life.