What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an overwhelming feeling or abrupt surges of intense fear or intense discomfort that reach a peak within minutes, accompanied by physical and/or cognitive symptoms (DSM 5).
For example; you are afraid of heights and your friends forced you to go bungee jumping. Right before they can hook you to the cord your heart starts pounding fast. You feel like your heart will come out. You are having difficulty breathing as if something is pressing on your neck. And then everything starts looking hazy.
A scary episode indeed, but most of the panic attacks look and feel like this. People need to be able to identify a panic attack. Because most of the times panic attacks can be quite serious.
Panic attacks are sometimes unexpected as well. A panic attack is a co-morbid factor for numerous mental disorders. So on surface-level panic attacks can occur without any reason or trigger. But it can be a part of someone’s mental health condition. Anxiety disorders, substance use, depressive disorders, and Psychotic disorders.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Understanding the symptoms of a panic attack is very important. It will help to recognize a panic attack and provide help. There are also a variety of disorders that has panic attacks as an underlying symptom. So knowing the differences will help in taking precautions.
There are a lot of symptoms that point toward a panic attack. Some of the key symptoms are;
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid breathing/ unable to breathe properly
- Very fast heartbeat
- Lightheaded and dizzy
- Unable to move hands or legs
- Feelings of overwhelming fear and anxiety
- Intense, repetitive worrying
- Feeling of detachment
Ways to stay in control during a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are unpredictable. But having an understanding and a plan can help a person to feel more in control.
Always keep in mind to take deep breaths. Panic attacks cause rapid breathing and tightening of the chest. We should always concentrate on our breathing and slowly count our breaths. Slow Inhale and Slow exhale.
It is always temporary
It always feels like the end of the world during a panic attack. It feels never-ending and that makes it worse. So we need to keep repeating to ourselves that it is temporary; we will come out of it.
Find a peaceful spot
Some situations must be avoided at all costs if we think we might have a panic attack. For example, A crowded place is a big ‘no’ as it can increase the severity of the attack. So we need to find a peaceful and secluded place to calm ourselves, if possible. If finding a secluded place is not possible, then taking a walk by ourselves also helps.
Understand the triggers
Everyone has their demons. We need to understand what triggers our stress and anxiety to a panic attack level. Removing all the stress and anxiety from our lives is impossible. But we can certainly avoid some of the triggers that bring out the worst. These triggers can be a variety of things; like height, a person, a specific topic, or it can be unexpected as well. For the unexpected triggers, we can take a mental note to avoid them for the next time.
Focus on something neutral
A panic attack makes us stuck on a scary thought. It keeps on repeating the bad consequences of the same. So we need to keep our minds fixed on something neutral that is not related to any of the overwhelming worries. A video on YouTube, A call to a friend, counting the petals of a flower can work as a neutral situation.
Counting is a very effective technique when it comes to a panic attack. Different people use it differently. We can count from 1 to 100 or in reverse. There is also a technique called 5-4-3-2-1. This technique can effectively distract our minds from overwhelming stress and worries. Where we have to think of
- 5 objects that we can see in our surroundings
- 4 things that we can hear
- 3 things that we can touch and feel their texture and temperature
- 2 things that we can smell
- And lastly, 1 thing that we can taste.
Muscle relaxation technique
Muscle relaxation technique is an established technique in stress-relieving. This concept of physiology is widely and effectively used in the field of mental health and well-being. This technique involves tensing up, holding it for 5 seconds, and then relaxing different muscles of the body. We can use this Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help limit an attack. This is because when the mind senses the body relaxing then other symptoms also lessens.
Communication might be the only alternative that works for various mental health issues. Communicating with someone with whom we feel comfortable helps us cope with panic attacks. When we share our worries and stress with friends and family it reduces the chances of an attack. It’s reassuring to know that people are looking out for us.
Following a routine could be hard at first. But if we keep the mentioned alternatives in mind, then maintaining control during a panic attack will get easier. Panic attacks can be unpleasant. But learning to deal with and overcome them can allow you to gain confidence. Seeking treatment from a mental health professional can also be very beneficial to understand and gain perspective.
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