Living with anxiety is not fun, nor is it close to easy. It can be helped and somewhat controlled, with or without medicine, but it seems as if anxiety sits in the background just waiting to strike.
Is it just me that sees it in that way?
I’ve discussed my own issues with anxiety in other posts A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Social Anxiety: Mistaken Identity. I try to tackle them with yoga and meditation. I also color and watch funny movies (my new fave is the Ken Jeong Netflix special) to help.
How Panic Attacks Work
Panic attacks can happen without an obvious trigger, basically out of nowhere. Talk about scary. If these happen with a change in behavior with at least one month of worry about another attack happening, this crosses over into panic disorder. These attacks start with the well-known “fight or flight” response. When this response occurs multiple times, our bodies misinterpret what is going on- whether the event is a true threat or not.
At this point, it becomes a “fear of fear” situation and this makes for a vicious cycle. In other words, you become scared of the reactions in your own body- the increased heart rate, sweat, etc. It is not a good situation. These usually last 30 minutes or less, but to the person having the attack, it can seem like forever.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack:
- A sudden increase in intense fear and/or discomfort
- Racing heart rate
- Shortness of breath/feeling of choking
- Chest pain/discomfort
- Nausea/other stomach issues
- Fear of dying
What Can Others Do to Help?
- Most importantly, stay calm. Please don’t judge the person having the panic attack- that is one of the worst things you can do because we judge ourselves enough. We don’t need the extra judgment. It also isn’t helpful. The feelings are real, please treat them as such.
- Help them focus on their breathing by taking them to a quiet place (wherever possible) and guide them to take deep, slow breaths for a few minutes. You can also try gentle exercises to burn off some of the stress- even light stretches can help. Even a quiet chat about a shared interest or naming five things around them can help them break out of the thought pattern they are in.
What Can I Do for Myself?
- Self-care is a very important tool to combat panic attacks. If you realize that you have triggers to your attacks, try to modify or avoid them whenever possible. If this isn’t possible, develop a plan to make things easier on yourself. Why set yourself up to have another panic attack if there is a way to prevent them?
- Learn more about anxiety and panic attacks. You might be surprised to learn that the feelings you experience aren’t signs that you aren’t going “crazy” but are normal. This can be a source of relief.
- Cut back or avoid nicotine, alcohol and/or caffeine. All of these are known to be stimulants or somehow cause personality changes that can cause panic attacks.
- Try relaxation techniques. This is where meditation comes in, for example, or yoga. There are other ways you can try to relax or control your breathing. Exercising is also a good way to help with anxiety. It releases endorphins that help you feel good.
- Sleep. Getting enough sleep can reduce anxiety- getting to sleep can be an issue, however, so there are things like calming music, melatonin, white noise machines, etc, you can try to get the sleep you need.
Treatment and Medication
There are two main ways that anxiety and panic attacks are treated.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is used in many different ways. It helps change thought patterns by looking at how you currently think and learning to look at them realistically.
Medications used to treat anxiety and panic attacks include SSRIs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines act fairly quickly, within about 30 minutes, but do have a risk of addiction.
This Is Treatable and Tolerable
Panic attacks are something that can be treated and worked through. If you have them, please know that there is help and information out there. Please see my Resources page for more information or see these links: