Today, panic attacks are more common than they seem, affecting all types of people. Whether you’re walking down the street, taking a bus, working or simply sitting, you begin to feel your body unleashing a series of horrifying sensations: tachycardia, a tickling sensation in the hands and feet, the hairs on the skin and back of the neck standing on end, shaking, a rise in pulse. You can control neither your balance nor your vision, which becomes increasingly blurry.
Your palms sweat and you feel like you’re in an unbearable state of alert, like you’ve just seen an explosion or something terrible. It’s difficult to breathe, your stomach is upset, you have sensation of asphyxia, a sensation of being beside yourself, a sudden fear of death. But nothing is happening on the outside.
There are no explosions, nothing external that requires you to be in this state of alert: everything seems calm. What is happening? Why should you feel this sensation of fear that seems to suddenly invade you, brutally and without warning, making you feel so terrible? This is a panic attack.
Panic attacks are periods in which an individual feels a sudden sensation of fear, panic and anxiety that they cannot control. As previously described, these are the main symptoms:
- Chest pains
- Abdominal pains
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive perspiration
- Among others
Many times, the feeling that these symptoms cannot be controlled before an attack only serves to exacerbate them. Sometimes, a person can dream they are having a panic attack, which is a very realistic and disturbing nightmare.
Panic attacks are really more common than you would think: if we asked our relatives, surely someone suffered them at one point. These episodes can occur at certain times, or reoccur at various points throughout someone’s life.
What should you do?
Oftentimes, panic attacks are related to emotional issues a person is suffering through – issues that are beyond their control, i.e. a breakup, losing a job, fear of failure, confronting a loss, fear of gaining independence when you’re young – these can all be triggers. Other times, traumatic childhood experiences that you’ve suffered through can contribute to these attacks.
Certain medications can produce panic attacks, as well as phobias – like the fear of heights, water and enclosed spaces. Other causes can be related to certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism or obsessive compulsive disorders. The symptoms of withdrawal from or overexposure to certain substances, like nicotine, marijuana or caffeine can also trigger them amid other factors.
The good thing is that these attacks can be controlled, and of course, they can be overcome.
What you can do:
1. First, it is highly recommended that you seek psychological help. In many countries it’s not common take this approach, although it’s proven very effective for treating panic attacks, since it lets patients learn about their own fears and know how to recognize them.
2. When you are having a panic attack, it is important to recognize and repeat to yourself that this is only momentary and it will pass. The intention is to calm yourself and to recognize that the fear is being caused by a specific issue that isn’t going to result in death or anything serious.
3. It’s good to try to distract yourself with external things, like keeping your sight fixed on an object far away or reading a sign: it helps in recovering your balance.
4. Learn to control your breathing: breathe slowly and follow a rhythm that will result in a state of gentle relaxation.
5. Don’t consume substances that stimulate the nervous system, like caffeine and nicotine.
6. Learn about panic attacks in order to indentify them and conquer your fear.
7. Try exposure therapy: This therapy consists of being exposed to your phobias in order to lose your fear of them in a controlled way, supervised by a professional.
8. Have a general checkup: Get medical testing to find out if the panic attacks are due to medical issue, like an illness or hormonal disorder.
9. Consult a psychiatrist: They can prescribe you tranquilizers that can help control your anxiety.
10. Don’t feel like you’re crazy or unbalanced or have constant feelings of depression or feel diminished because you have these episodes of anxiety.
11. Maintain an active lifestyle, exercise and keep to a regular sleep schedule.
12. Learn relaxation techniques that can serve as a tool to control fear before a panic attack.