Panic attacks are something I used to suffer with on a daily basis when I was in the midst of my anxiety. This morning I had one for the first time in a long time. It has made me think that I still follow steps to calm myself down, it has almost become a second nature to me to automatically do this. I thought I would write a blog post on what a panic attack feels like and how to deal with it. This isn’t just useful for people who suffer with panic attacks, but is also useful for helping someone you are with deal with a panic attack. Sometimes they are so severe you simply cannot pull yourself out of it and need the help of another.
First of all, let’s start with how to identify the symptoms of a panic attack. Panic attacks involve sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning. They can happen at any given time, even sleep. It is quite common for the feeling of a panic attack to be mistaken for those of a heart attack. “The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is happening around them.” The thought processes that occur mostly are irrational thinking however to the person typically this does not help in the moment.
Please see below for a list of symptoms that can be present leading up to or during a panic attack:
• Racing heart
• Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
• Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
• Sense of terror or impending doom
• Feeling sweaty or having chills
• Chest pains
• Breathing difficulties
• Feeling a loss of control
Generally, panic attacks tend to last between 1 and 10 minutes but can be recurrent. It is important to get the person having a panic attack into a calm, comfortable environment. Do not make assumptions about what has triggered the panic attack or press the individual on why that made them have an attack. If you know the person takes medication for their panic attacks offer this to them. I always have some tablets in my bag which relieve me if I am having a really severe panic attack but thankfully I haven’t had to use them in some time. They were prescribed to me by my GP and if you are having recurrent extreme attacks I recommend looking into this as an option. They were only taken as and when needed for “instant” relief from an attack and did come in useful at the time. Talk to the person slowly and calmly, do not make any sudden movements which could trigger more panic. Slow the persons breathing down by encouraging them to breathe in through their nose until their lungs are full, hold this for 5 then forcefully blow all air out of their lungs completely and repeat. My mum taught me this when I was younger and it is the only thing I can confidently say works every time for me.
In basic terms:
• Reduce the amount of stress in this very stressful situation.
• Prevent the situation from getting worse.
• Help put some control in a confusing situation.
To treat panic attacks, it is important to ride them out and challenge yourself. Put yourself in situations that would usually trigger an attack and face your fear, whilst implementing your breathing tactics to keep your anxiety of the situation at a manageable state.
Panic attacks are quite common amongst young people especially and can be mistaken for a lot of different things. It is important that you acknowledge if you are having a panic attack so you can put things in place to help yourself.
I found investing in mindfulness a few times a week has helped with my overall decrease of panic attacks. I use an app called headspace and at first I thought it was a load of rubbish however, it does actually work in the long run as long as you follow the instructions. You can tailor the programme to your own needs such as anxiety/tiredness amongst other things.
In medical reports it is also noted that when you suffer with one panic attack you are more prone to experiencing them again. In my experience, I have had months, even yearlong gaps without them before they make an appearance – like this morning. I woke up having a panic attack and I am unsure why, but that’s ok because I focussed on my breathing for a few minutes whilst also telling myself positive thoughts. I then got up and have gone about my day as I usually would with no other signs of it happening again today.
Have faith in yourself, your body and mind are a lot stronger than you think.