What are panic attacks?
Panic attack is a sudden burst of fear or terror without any apparent reason or warning signs. During such an attack, there is less control over thoughts and actions. Such attacks are often accompanied by breathlessness, confusion, chest pain, restlessness, and dizziness. The impact of such attacks can be so extreme that people who experience panic attacks have a fear that they may die out of it or that they are suffocating. Such attacks can happen anywhere and can usually last from a few to 10 minutes and in some cases even 20-30 minutes.
When panic attacks occur body gets over alert for no apparent reason. It is difficult to identify what causes such attacks. But people who have had a panic attack in the past are more likely to experience it again as against someone who has never experienced a panic attack.
Panic attack disorders
One of the most common fears that come alongside a panic attack is the fear of the next attack. Even when these attacks are not occurring, people suffering from these disorders are mostly afraid of experiencing an attack.
Although panic attacks may not cause any serious physical damage, yet they can be very threatening for a person’s mental health and thus should not be neglected.
It is also to be noted that people often mistake panic attacks with anxiety attacks as they have several symptoms in common. Anxiety attacks occur due to the anxiety built up gradually over time, while panic attacks come up all of a sudden without any warning signs.
Panic attack symptoms
The terror experienced during a panic attack can be so severe that the people who have such attacks may feel suffocation or fear of death. Even though no such thing is happening to them.
Some of the common symptoms experienced by people suffering from panic attacks are:
- Sense of danger or blurry sight.
- Fear of loss of control or of death.
- Rapid pounding heart rate.
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat.
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramps.
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness.
- Numbness or tingling sensation.
- Feeling of unreality or detachment.
Panic attack causes
It simply starts from fear or phobia and in some cases, it could be due to several other factors. In most cases, people are not able to distinguish between normal nervousness or stress and a disorder. A certain major transition in personnel and professional life such as losing a job, death of a loved one, getting married or divorced can lead to severe stress and hence trigger panic attacks. Sometimes even some medications may cause reactions or certain biological changes in the body which may lead to such disorders.
Some of the common causes of panic attacks are:
- certain medications
Panic attack treatment
Panic attacks can be frightening and may need serious attention. Treatment for such attacks may vary from psychotherapy to medications. Psychotherapies like CBT(cognitive behavioral therapy) are helpful in first-line treatment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a talking therapy that changes the way a person behaves or thinks. It is based on the concept that the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a person are interconnected and thus focuses on improving one’s state of mind. Depending upon the severity of the issues faced, some self-help therapies or help from psychologists or medicines prescribed by a doctor may be useful. In higher stages, therapists may keep patient under medications, such as antidepressants or drugs that have properties to contain anxiety. Drugs which are usually used in case of heart problems or thyroid problems can help in avoiding panic attacks and disorders.
Listed below are some ways to minimize the effect of panic attacks:
- Psychotherapies like CBT(cognitive behavioral therapy)
- Self-therapies like yoga and meditation
- Taking help from a specialist (psychologists or therapists)
- Avoiding stress and excessive pressure
- Enjoying nature and time spent with loved ones
Panic attack medicines
If symptoms of panic attacks continue to last for a long time and self-help therapies like meditation and yoga don’t work, seeking the help of a therapist is recommended, Also, suggested medicines can be taken under the guidance of a doctor. Medications can be of classes:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – These are a class of antidepressants and are used to treat depression and anxiety
- Tricyclic Antidepressants – These are popular in treating mood and anxiety disorders.
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) – These are effectively useful for mood and anxiety disorders
- Benzodiazepines – This is a class of anti-anxiety medication for panic disorder.
How to deal with a panic attack
If at all you feel that you are having a panic attack, try the following so as to avoid it from becoming severe:
- Inhale deep breaths
- Recognize having a panic attack
- Close your eyes
- Practice mindfulness
- Find an object to focus upon
- Try muscle relaxation techniques
- Picture your happy place
- Try light exercises
- Keep lavender on hand
- Repeat a mantra internally
- Try meditation
- Take Benzodiazepines.
Medical conditions that hang on with panic attacks
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism.
- Respiratory disorders like chronic obstructive disorder pulmonary disease(COPD) and asthma.
- Drug misuse or withdrawal
- Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
- Rare tumors that produce fight-or-flight syndromes
How can you help someone having panic attacks:
- Stay with the person and keep calm
- Offer the person medicine which he often consumes during such situations.
- Don’t make assumptions about what a person may need- just ask
- Speak to the person in short, simple sentences
- Be predictable, avoid surprises.
- Help slow the person’s breathing by breathing with him or slowly counting to 10.
The intensity of the panic attack goes away after some time with or without medical help. Severe stress like stress at work, in personal life or death of a loved one, can trigger panic attacks. It is important to know the causes and treatment of such attacks as it can bring terror and fear which might last for a long time.
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