Your heart is thumping with utmost ferocity. Your chest feels heavier obstructing your normal breathing. There is not much you can do about it. You feel overwhelmed and your mind equips itself with anxiety-ridden thoughts. There are significant chances that you may collapse, and you do not mind dying at this stage. This situation has engulfed you in its entirety and there seems to be no ray of hope available.
If you have experienced any of the above symptoms, you are not alone. You are part of the 6 million adult population in the US who suffer from panic disorder every year.
Panic attacks can be utterly painful, and the person may find him/herself detached from the normal working of life during the episode of its happening. The unfortunate reality is that no synthetic medications will help undermine the symptoms instantly and one may have to bear the consequences regardless. Yet on the contrary side, patients have recovered from the disorder reducing the chances of reoccurrence to nil. On a more fortunate ground, there are home-based easy to carry out activities that can lessen the impact of the attack.
This article is the detailed guidance you need to understand one of the most overlooked psychological disorder and its accompanying consequences.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear that can be debilitating. It can occur anytime from morning to day and people have even experienced in the middle of a sleep which forces them awake. For some people, it can be one time occurrence while patients who suffer from panic disorder are known to have repeated episodes irregularly appearing. The reoccurrence is usually caused when the body senses any danger or there have been past instances of trauma linked to that situation or place. People with social anxiety who avoid recognition will commonly experience a panic attack at gatherings. Neuro-psychiatrist Daniel Cohen, practising at New York City reports a case of a young girl who repeatedly found her symptoms of panic disorder intensifying while crossing a bridge. The girl had some traumatizing past experience linked with that bridge.
Anna Lente’s Story
“At first, little things trigger my anxiety more and more. My senses heighten. My mind and body go on full alert. I feel chilled, though my face is flushed. I feel like a deer caught in headlights, overwhelmed by the blinding lights of a situation I’m trapped in. My body is frozen in place, but ready to flee. My thoughts curdle and scatter in a million directions. I hear an alert sounding in my head. Danger, danger! Escape, escape! I become hypersensitive to sounds, movements, voices, darkness and light. Everything feels too close and too loud. Words people say jump out at me. Small movements people make feel like assaults against me. When people come close to me I jump back, startled.” (Source: The Mighty)
Signs and Symptoms
Anna Lente’s story is one way of understanding the experiences of a person who has repeated instances of panic attack. Regardless of what time and place it occurs, one episode is likely to set in without warning and will intensify after 10 minutes of initiation. American Association of Psychiatry highlights that on average, the attack will terminate within the half hour and in rare cases in an hour. The association is also able to conclude some common symptoms of the attack that will be experienced by the majority of the patients:
- Shortness of Breath
- Trembles and shivers
- Heavy feeling of discomfort in the chest region (people often mistake it for heart attack though if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, consult the nearest cardiologist immediately)
- Continuous sweating
- Hot and cold flashes
- Immobility and compulsive need to sit/lie down (though some people will report the urge to move around for it helps them cope with the attack)
- Nausea and feeling full (victims of panic attack will often decline eating until the termination of the episode).
Although, our recent discussion has interchangeably used panic attack with panic disorder yet there exists a slight difference between the two. One attack is not supposed to be considered harmful however as the frequency of the occurrences amplify, your psychiatrist will diagnose you with panic disorder. To self-diagnose, apart from the reoccurrences, if you witness any behaviour disruption accompanied by mood swings and remain in the constant fear of experiencing an attack then you are likely to suffer from this disorder.
Things people who suffer from Panic Disorder want you to know!
Regardless of one instance or frequent episodes, panic attacks can leave the person in the serious amount of distress. They feel emotionally disturbed and recalling the occurrence can take a considerable emotional toll. In that case, the most one can contribute for the victim is be as understanding as possible and not invalidate any of the experiences.
In a series of interviews conducted, these are of some the summarized responses of people received. The responses are meant for friends and families of the victim in a way to make them realize how a panic attack feels like and what they should be best doing in that case:
- There is no known cause to it sometimes. Although attack can be triggered due to some situations, often it appears abruptly without any reason
- Panic attacks are exhausting. Victims might want to spend the post-attack days resting or lying down
- Stop saying things like, “Don’t let it affect you so much”, “You are stronger than this.” Although the intention might not be to worsen the feelings of the patient, often, he/she will disregard such consolation
- People who have had a recent panic attack will cancel on last minute plans and will at times avoid social gatherings altogether
- Consolation in the form of hugging, holding one’s hand is always appreciated yet not without the victim’s consent
- Symptoms are difficult to cope with and the person might need extra space to handle the debilitating feeling.
- Panic Attack is much more than hyperventilating and being short of breath. Victims will often go silent or zone out but that should not be a reason for invalidation.
Prognosis and Self Care
Panic attacks are painfully exhausting and can leave the person emotionally scarred. Fortunately, however, people recover from panic disorders fully through either synthetic drugs prescribed by a neuropsychiatrist or home-based self care techniques.
Understanding Panic Attacks: It is important to learn about panic attacks, the symptoms, causes and trigger points. Reading up on this disorder and getting to know about experiences can vastly enhance one knowledge about this illness
Saying NO to smoking and alcohol: Smoking, alcohol and abuse of substances are known to cause repeated occurrences of panic attacks. One should consider avoiding them at any cost.
Research studies have also concluded that higher intake of caffeine can amplify the chances of panic attack(s)
Breathing Exercise: Psychologists would recommend ways to control breathing that can essentially lessen the impact of the attack. The exercise entails: inhale of deep breath followed by slow release of air in such a way that it has a calming effect on the person
Physical Exercise and Relaxing Techniques: Taking out time for physical activities is the best natural way to reduce the instances of panic attack. Working out in fresh air as opposed to indoors is known to be more effective. Relaxing techniques include daily morning yoga (for about 30 minutes) and meditation. It is also important to maintain a healthy sleep pattern.