"You’re hyperventilating with trembling hands and you can hear your heart pounding its way through your rib cage. You’re getting either too hot or too cold. The sounds and sights around you are less clear now, and it feels as if everything is just a big mesh of noise. You’re nauseous and you feel your throat closing up. What is going on? Could I be suffering from a heart attack?" If you’ve ever been through a similar situation, and (thankfully) it didn’t result in a heart attack, then you may be one of the three adults that will experience at least one panic attack throughout their lifetime.
What exactly is a panic attack?
The main emotion behind panic itself is mainly fear, which is our emotional reaction to perceiving a current danger (whether real or imagined), and it is what activates our fight-or-flight mode in times of distress. A panic attack is a sudden (usually overwhelming) intense wave of anxiety. It could entail a set of troubling physical symptoms, similar to those of a heart attack, that can last between 5 to 30 minutes. During a panic attack, we can get overwhelmed by fear to an extent that prevents us from being functional in response to the situation we’re in. While panic attack symptoms wouldn’t result in physical damage in the long term, their symptoms are extremely frightening for the person experiencing them, and a fear of getting another panic attack might prevent people from engaging in their everyday life, such as going out with friends, consistently going to work, or even making certain phone calls for example.
Dealing with panic attacks
While a panic attack may come as a symptom of different psychological disorders, there are multiple tools that you can use to deal with a panic attack. There is always a bright side and you don’t have to keep living with the intense symptoms of a panic attack for long.
Being in the Here and Now
- Acknowledge that you are going into a panic attack (or that you are having one), but try not to stop the activity you were doing.
- Identify the “What Ifs” that are going through your mind, (write them down if possible), set them aside for now, catch any new what-ifs arising and set them aside, assure yourself that this is just a passing wave of anxiety, and that it is going to pass soon.
- The intensity, frequency, and duration of panic attacks can be affected by multiple factors, including but not limited to hunger, loneliness, anger, exhaustion, burnout, or lack of sleep. Check in with yourself if you’re experiencing any of this right now and address it by giving your body what it needs.
- You may benefit from engaging in one or more of the following: breathing exercises 123, grounding technique, or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Know the signs: identify and note down the signs of your panic attack, so you can know beforehand and possibly prepare yourself in case it’s about to happen again.
Considering the Future
- Give someone a call and try to walk the other person through the trigger, try to identify what brought on the attack, and note it down somewhere.
- Write it down, deconstruct it, and identify what the actual danger is, and what could be expectations, guesses, worst-case scenarios, or other non-realistic scenarios.
- Mindfulness and meditation can really benefit anyone who is going through this. One really interesting series we found was Headspace’s guide to meditation on Netflix. It takes a look at the benefits of meditation in a fun animated display while offering techniques and guided meditations to get your meditation journey started.
- Some psychotherapy modalities, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), work on identifying and explaining how and why certain sequences of thoughts can trigger fear and panic attacks. Here is a list of our therapists at O7 who provide therapy using CBT!.
- If you think you need medical intervention, you may seek out a psychiatrist on our platform.
If you, or someone you know, are struggling with frequent panic attacks, we would encourage you to take a step toward improving your well-being and recovery is always possible. Therapy has the power to change your life for the better, as it has done for so many others. You are not alone.