A Panic Attack is a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. The intense fear triggers severe physical and cognitive reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. The reactions can be feeling you will die, pain or pressure on your chest, shortness of breath, trembling, heart palpitations and dizziness.
A panic attack can happen anywhere, at any time. You may feel terrified and overwhelmed, even though you’re not in any danger. An episode usually passes in 5-10 minutes, but it can linger for hours. It can feel like you’re having a heart attack or a stroke. So people with panic attacks often wind up in the emergency room for evaluation.
If this kind of random event has happened to you at least twice, and you always worry and change your routine to keep from having one, you might have a panic disorder; a type of anxiety disorder. If left untreated, panic disorder can sometimes lead to agoraphobia, an intense fear of being outside or in enclosed spaces.
This disorder reflects the experience of sudden panic symptoms (generally out of the blue, without specific triggers) in combination with persistent, lingering worry that panic symptoms will return and fear of those panic symptoms.
Repeated panic attacks characterise Panic Disorder.
Is there a difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?
Anxiety is a mental health condition that can cause feelings of worry, fear, or tension.
With an anxiety attack, a person may feel fearful, apprehensive, feel his/her heart racing or feel short of breath. It’s usually temporary, and when the stressor goes away, so it makes the anxiety attack.
A panic attack mostly doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable, although some people may experience extreme symptoms like chest pain from stress.
Both panic and anxiety can involve fear, a pounding or racing heart, lightheadedness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and irrational thoughts. However, in a panic attack, these are far more severe. Panic attack symptoms usually peak within ten minutes and typically last about half an hour.
Recurrent expected or unexpected panic attacks AND one or more of the following symptoms for at least one month:
- Pounding heart
- Feeling of weakness
- Tingling or numbness in hands
- Feeling flushed
- Sense of unreality
- Feeling of loss of control or losing one’s mind
- Fear of dying or something physically wrong (e.g., heart attack, stroke)
- Persistent concern about the consequences of the attacks (e.g. “going crazy”, heart attack) or fears of having additional attacks
- A significant change in behaviour related to attacks (e.g. avoiding exercise)
- Duration of panic attacks: a few minutes to 10 minutes (rarely last longer than 1 hour)
These symptoms mustn’t be better accounted for by another disorder (e.g. panic attacks only in social settings). The signs also cannot be caused by substances, medications, or medical illness.
It’s not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but these factors may play a role:
- Major stress
- A temperament that is more sensitive to pressure or prone to negative emotions
- Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
Panic attacks may come on suddenly and without warning at first, but certain situations usually trigger them over time.
Coping Strategies & Resources for Supporting Someone with Panic Disorder
Please note: Turning to drugs or alcohol to try to deal with panic disorder, in turn, can make the symptoms worse.
SUPPLEMENTS: By using natural remedies and vitamins for anxiety and panic attacks, you can treat these mood disorders’ underlying root cause and get lasting relief.
VITAMIN B COMPLEX: Helpful vitamins for anxiety can be several B vitamins. The B vitamin deficiencies most often linked to panic attacks, anxiety and depression are B6, B9, and B12. B-complex supplements usually pack all eight B vitamins into one pill. B vitamins are water-soluble, which means your body does not store them. For this reason, your diet must supply them each day. It is best to supplement with one perfect Vitamin B complex tablet per day. If you can buy a sustained release product – they release the vitamin over several hours for maximum absorption.
One of the scariest early experiences in panic disorder is having a panic attack and not knowing what is happening to your body. By learning more about panic attacks and panic disorder, you can start to label and identify the experience that you are having. Although panic attacks are very distressing, it is good to know the following: you won’t die, you won’t lose control completely, and you are not crazy. Next time you have a panic attack, tell yourself you will be okay, you have been through it before, you won’t die, it will pass. Just breathe.
Accept and Relax
Although relaxing and acceptance might sound counter-intuitive, it can help to cope with panic attacks if you picture anxiety like a wave that moves through you – what goes up must come down. Fighting it might trigger a “fear cycle” that increase attacks. Relaxing and acceptance have the opposite effect – especially now that you know you won’t die.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus to be intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in that moment, without interpretation or judgment. ¹ Things are not good or bad – they are. Overthinking can cause anxiety. It is, therefore, essential to practice mindfulness.
Solitary walks are suitable mindful activities where you think of nothing – feel the wind against your skin, see the leaves of trees and flowers as you walk, hear the sounds of birds. Smell the freshness of the air. Being out in nature removes you momentarily from the stressors at home or work. If you notice your mind going back to the stressors, gently nudge it back to the moment you are in.
There are many types of mindful exercises that you can try till you find the ones that suit you best – be it breathing exercises, a relaxing bath, listening to music, creating artwork or doing work in the garden.
How can you deal with feelings of panic?
Anxiety is often caused by a feeling of not being in control. Ignoring it may provide short term relieve – but is not helpful in the long run. You have to deal with the stressors if any.
Face the feelings of panic if you feel it coming on. It is a message from your body. What is it trying to tell you? It might be beneficial to sit down and make a list of things you always worry about. Which items do you have control over? Put measures and a timeline in place to deal with those. Attitude:” I can do this!”
The moment you start to write down things you fear or worry about, you apply with your cognitive mind. It helps to rewire your brain (develops new pathways) in your brain that reassures you that these feelings are not so scary after all. If you practise continually to handle your anxiety this way, it will reduce symptoms and make them more manageable.
You can text chat to an online facilitator on our Helpline if you need more help. Just click on LIVE CHAT to connect with a counsellor.
References & Resources