Coping with Panic Attacks

Fear can be a good thing when faced with dangerous or harmful stimuli. It helps us stay alert and be wary of potential threats to our physical and mental well being. But when fear transcends the level of a helpful emotion to something debilitating and paralyzing, it causes more harm than good. It robs us of our ability to make sensible choices and go ahead with it. Such a condition is called panic.

What are panic attacks?

Some people experience an unexpected surge of anxiety, fear and even terror without any apparent reason. During this intense and unpleasant period that may last for a few minutes to a few hours, they are unable to function rationally and are overwhelmed by an impending sense of doom. These episodes are called panic attacks or anxiety attacks. They can be both embarrassing and distressing for the person experiencing them. A person who gets recurrent bouts of panic attacks is said to suffer from a panic disorder.

Symptoms of a panic attack

Panic attacks are sudden and the symptoms peak within the span of a few minutes. They can be recognized by:

  • Palpitations of the heart and chest pain similar to a heart attack
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and butterflies in the stomach
  • A sense of disconnect from reality  
  • Intense and irrational fear of some disaster that is about to strike, and
  • A feeling of going crazy

What causes a panic attack?

The brain responds to threats by the release of adrenaline or epinephrine, the “fight or flight” hormone of the body. When adrenaline is pumped into the bloodstream, heart rate increases, pupils dilate, blood flow to the muscles increase and blood sugar levels rise. All this is done to prepare the body for a quick response – to flee from the situation or to fight it. The symptoms exhibited during panic attacks are just a reflection of these very same processes.

There are a number of stimuli that can trigger panic attacks. In some cases, it may be underlying health reasons such as heart disease, thyroid disorders, inflammation of the inner ear and low blood sugar. Post-traumatic stress disorder, death and personal losses, substance abuse and direct exposure to situations or material that trigger a phobia in people can also lead to panic attacks. In fact, some of these phobia-related panic attacks are self-regenerating – a fear of the stimulus creating an anxiety attack itself becomes a reason for setting off the panic response.

Managing panic attacks

Understanding the reasons that trigger this response itself is empowering. Through this knowledge, people can analyze their response clinically and learn to control and ultimately overcome it. Certain lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine, recreational drugs and smoking, following a regular exercise regimen incorporating aerobics and meditating have been found to help reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.

During a panic attack, try to consciously understand what you are going through. Close your eyes and practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Being aware of the surroundings and positive self-talk to reassure yourself that the panic attack is just a temporary phase from which you will recover within a few minutes will be of help. Another way to recover quickly from an Anxiety therapists long beach surge is to imagine that you were transported to a picturesque and relaxing destination. By picturing everything in the mind’s eye, attention can be drawn from the fear quotient and the mind can be calmed down.

When panic attacks are too severe to be controlled by these methods alone, doctors may prescribe depression therapists long beach and medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants. They are generally enough to guarantee a full recovery and are gradually withdrawn once the patients start showing tangible improvements.

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