Panic Attacks and how one can deal with them

There is a time when I felt that I am about to die as my heart was pounding. I felt like I am paralyzed and I am unable to take a breath, there is nothing I could do to avoid this feeling. Some of you may have experienced similar feelings. 

Yes, I am talking about the panic attacks which many people might have experienced at least once in their lifetime.

I am sharing some facts in this article which many people are not aware of and are useful for people to deal with panic attacks. 

Let me mention the symptoms faced by people during a panic attack:

  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Unrealistic feelings and being detached from self.
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes

You may have had a panic attack if you experienced four or more of the symptoms listed above. They usually start abruptly and peak in about 10 minutes.

Facts about panic attacks:

  1. Panic attacks are harmless, although they can feel very uncomfortable or scary.
  2. Panic attacks are the body’s “fight-flight-freeze” response kicking in. This response gets our body ready to defend itself (for instance, our heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles so we have the energy to run away or fight off danger). But during panic attacks, body might react even if there is no danger.
  3. A panic attack typically lasts only 5 to 10 minutes at peak intensity, although we sometimes feel like they go on forever. Because panic attacks take up a lot of energy in the body, they quickly run out of gas. This is why they don’t last very long. You may also feel exhausted after the episode.
  4. Panic attacks are private experiences. Except those very close to you usually cannot tell that you are having a panic attack.

Tips to cope up with panic attacks:

There are few ways to reduce these panic attacks. 

Panic diary: Maintain a panic diary in which you should mention each and every thing related to your panic attack. For example: Date, situation, anxiety symptoms, Catastrophic Misinterpretation (The catastrophe is the terrifying event that you thought was going to happen to you when you panic) and response. The panic diary will help you understand why you had a panic. Now you need to make a habit of generating an alternative response to your catastrophic misinterpretations whenever you panic and to write the response down in the final column of your panic diary.

Distraction techniques: There are many types of distraction techniques, for example, thinking of a holiday; imagine the sand between your toes, the sun on your skin and the sound of the sea or you could picture your favourite place wherever that might be. Distraction techniques work because they break the panic cycle of thinking and bodily sensations. These distraction techniques must be employed for at least 3-4 minutes for them to be effective.

Breathing Retraining Technique: Over breathing can also develop as part of the panic attack and make the symptoms worse. This breathing retraining technique can help you to overcome the problem of over breathing during panic attack.

Practice this basic technique three times a day, every day:

Inhale, with your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can while you count to six. If you can, use your diaphragm to fill your lungs with air. Hold and keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four. Exhale, slowly breathe out as you count to six. Repeat it and do the inhale-hold-exhale cycle several times. Each time you do it, exhale for longer counts.

Physical exercise: Some recent studies suggest that exercise can reduce the symptoms of panic attack. In fact, exercise is a useful antidote to stress that also serves to enhance our sense of wellbeing. Regular exercise can make you less vulnerable to future episodes of panic. But, talk to your treating doctor before you start exercising, particularly if it has been a long time since you last exercised.

Medication: Sometimes you will be told to take the medication when you feel anxious, while others need to be taken everyday at around the same time each day.  Some of the anti-depressant / anti-anxiety medication work well to make you less anxious, while the minor tranquilizers are used to reduce anxiety or by suppressing the physical symptoms of anxiety and therefore the panic attacks. These medicines may have some side effects, but these usually pass in time. If you have any problems with your medication, then discuss these with your treating doctor as soon as possible.


Dr. Y. Alekhya.   




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