“I get frequent panic attack after my “run in” with a heart problem I had a year ago. Panic attacks for me come in waves and do not leave me for 3 – 4 days. It makes me feel very scared and depressed and I am edgy all the time. I keep feeling pain sensations in my chest, back and arm and can’t get over the feeling – which I am going to die or get a heart attack. I did go to the doctor and my heart specialist. They can’t find anything unusual in my heart…they have given me some medications for this panic disorder – Xanax – but that freaks me out and the withdrawal symptoms are awful”.
These were the words of a recent blogger regarding her experience with overcoming panic attacks.
Fortunately,there are other ways to treat – and find help in overcoming panic attacks – besides prescription medication! The girl in this blog expressed some of the symptoms that people who have numerous panic attacks – experience. What exactly is a panic attack? We all have experienced a panicky feeling at one time or another. If you ever realized that you’ve lost your car in a deserted parking lot, or your child in a store, you know how it feels. A panic attack exhibits the same feelings, but is much more intense – and happens suddenly, without warning. They can even be terrifying – and make the person feel that they are going to die. Some people think that they are having a heart attack. They can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. A person who has had more than 4 panic attacks is said to have panic disorder.
Everyone is different – and there are a variety of symptoms that people can experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Flushed skin
- Intense or mild sweating
- Increase in heart rate
- Hot flashes
- Foreboding feeling of death or similar
- Intense shaking and trembling
- Pain in chest region and ribs
- Migraines or headaches
- Cramping in abdominal region
- Fainting sensation
- Feeling of tightness in throat
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Strained breath
- Overall weakness
- Tingling sensation in the hands and fingers
- Numbness in hands and legs
- Feeling complete loss of control
- Chest discomfort
- Feeling lightheaded
- Urgency to use the bathroom
- Muscle strain and pain
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Ears turning hot and/or lips turning cold
- Flushing and blotching of skin
- Loss of skin color
- Experiencing disturbing thoughts
- Feeling unsteady and unlike oneself
- Paralyzing terror
- An intense need to escape
- Experiencing perceptual distortions
- Experiencing the feeling that you’re not yourself or are going about in a dream like state
It is important to treat yourself preventatively if you experience these symptoms. Some of the actions that you can take to prevent a panic attack are as follows:
- Breathe in and out very, very slowly as part of breathing exercises. This will lend to more oxygen and will help in blocking every other thought.
- Try relaxation techniques or some kinds of meditation.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Cut out all products that contain caffeine. These are known to intensify the attack.
- Cut out on all foods that spike insulin in your body.
- Exercise for at least 40 minutes a day. This will help relieve stress.
What can you do when a panic attack occurs?
It depends of the situation, and the symptoms, but in the middle of an attack there are things that you can do in order to keep functioning:
Driving a car: Breathe deeply, pull over and relax. Continue with deep breathing exercises. If it is a scary thought, de-focus off of the thought and think on things that make you happy. Force yourself to continue doing this until you get to your destination. When you get there, think about what triggered it – and have a plan of attack in the future.
Giving a speech: Go out and meet the people in the audience if you can. Viewing the audience as friendly can help in a panic attack. Plan ahead as to what you will do if you have an attack in the middle of a sentence. In the middle of an attack, take deep breaths, and change the plan. For example, get a glass of water and excuse yourself while you drink, re-focus and breathe. You can also stop your speech temporarily and ask a question – or ask for questions. But above all, realize that you are not losing it. You are in control, and just need to re-focus and you’ll be finishing your speech successfully
Meeting new people: Take deep, calm ing breaths. Look around the crowd and find someone who looks as nervous as you do. Sit or stand with them and start a simple, mild conversation. If the conversation lags, or if you have a panic attack, go get a glass of something, re-focus your thoughts and deep-breathe. If you know someone in the crowd, go and speak to them. If not, find a friendly face, or another lonely person. Do this for short periods – and repeat this situation over and over until it becomes easier.
What other general actions can be taken to stop an attack?
Identify the Symptoms: When the episode is over, review the symptoms that you had, so that you will know how to deal with them in the future.
Embrace Attack: By embracing the attack, it means that you don’t run away in fear from it. You take charge. You’re also keeping the attack from building steam and becoming worse, you’ve taken away what it needs to feed off of. Don’t make rationalizations for the attack you’re having, take it for exactly what it is, a panic attack. Tell yourself that this attack is not a real event your mind is making this up to make you upset.
Exercise and Sleep: Start an exercise routine that will get your body moving and also distract you if you feel yourself becoming anxious. Don’t stop your routine if you anticipate an anxious situation the next day. Exercise helps your whole body to relax, and function better. Going for a jog while listening to music is a great way to get some exercise. Sleep is very important, because a lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of stress. Stress is the leading cause of anxiety attacks. Therefore, you should do everything you can to make sure you’re getting a good night’s rest.
Distraction Technique: When you feel like you’re about to have an anxiety attack find something that will take your mind off of it. If you’re in a public situation, do something different to refocus yourself off of your symptoms and the tension. Ask an open-ended question – that will get others to talk while you regain your composure. If you’re by yourself, listen to some uplifting music, take a hot shower, go for a run… it really doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as it’s a positive experience and you’re not focusing on your anxiety.
Find the Root Cause: It is vital to discover for yourself what triggered the attack. This will help you in the attack – to refocus. It will also help you to plan ahead when facing a similar situation – so that the attack is diminished, or never occurs at all.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine: Alcohol is a depressant, so anybody that has an anxiety disorder should avoid it as much as possible. It’s not a distraction or a way to cope with anxiety; it leads to worse attacks in the future. Caffeine is great for waking up in the morning but because it’s a stimulant it will increase the amount of anxiety you’re feeling. Both alcohol and caffeine can stimulate insulin and drive down the blood sugar – leading to developing nervousness, the shakes and anxiety.
Relax and Focus: It’s important to relax, focus on the things around you that you have control over, and don’t let the anxiety attack get the best of you. Your mind is very capable of training itself to deal with anxiety attacks in the future. Treat each one separately and eventually they will be a thing of the past. You can stop the attack from escalating by planning and changing the situation you are in.
Take Control: Take charge over the attack – so that it can be prevented and stopped when it occurs. Even if you have to start out small and work your way up. You have control over where you are sitting, what you had for lunch, and what assignment you’re going to do next-these are all things that the panic attack can’t regulate. The more power you give yourself the less power the panic attack will have over your life. You can overcome panic attacks!You have the power to decide what you will do when the attack occurs. You can alleviate the symptoms in the middle of an episode, with the right mind-set and actions.
The more you realize that you are in charge of your attacks, the more victorious you’ll become. With repeated success, and over time, you’ll find it easier and easier to handle the anxiety, and find themselves overcoming panic attacks when they come. Some people find that their anxiety never completely goes away. Others find that they always feel fear in certain situations, but have learned how to take control so that they don’t suffer a full-blown attack. Be patient and determined, you will win!