What are panic attacks?
All of us feel anxious or stressed out at times. However, panic attacks are much more than simply feeling anxious. Panic attacks are characterised by sudden, intense feelings of fear and overwhelm. It occurs without any warning or apparent reason.
Panic attacks usually last between five minutes to half an hour and have physical manifestations. Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating profusely
- Chest pains
- Intense, (mostly) irrational fear that something bad is about to happen
- Nausea and dizziness
- Feeling as if you are choking/suffocating and cannot breathe
- Shaking arms and legs, sometimes uncontrollable
In fact, these symptoms can be so intense and frightening that panic attacks often feel like - and are even mistaken for - heart attacks. People experiencing panic attacks have sometimes noted that they feel like they are about to collapse or even die. So, at what point do panic attacks and other related symptoms result in a panic disorder? Let’s find out.
What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder is a mental condition marked by multiple episodes of panic attacks. While not everyone with a panic attack is diagnosed with panic disorder, if you experience repeated attacks, it is best to seek professional help.
- Panic disorder is diagnosed if a person is experiencing recurrent, unexpected panic attacks that peak within ten minutes.
- According to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, these attacks are followed by a month or more of constant worrying and fear about another attack.
- The diagnosis also demands that panic attacks are not caused by the consumption of drugs or alcohol or an underlying mental or physical condition, such as phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Tips and tricks for managing panic attacks
Panic attacks can be nerve-wracking, especially because they occur unexpectedly. They could catch you off guard while you’re casually going about your day. We understand how difficult it can be to manage panic attacks, so we have compiled some strategies, tips, and tricks to help you manage these better.
Even though panic attacks can look different for different people, here are a few things you could try and see what works for you.
1. Deep breathing
Since hyperventilation is a prominent symptom of panic attacks, deep breathing is one way to control racing thoughts.
You can try practising the Box Breathing Technique.
You can also try 4-7-8 breathing. With this technique, the person breathes in for 4 seconds, holds the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhales slowly for 8 seconds. Focus on taking a deep breath through your nose, feeling the air fill your chest and belly. Then slowly exhale through your mouth and feel the air leave your body.
2. Find a quiet and peaceful place
Having too much external sensory input can worsen panic attacks. Find a place where you can take a breather and have some mental space, away from busy rooms and unwanted noise. This will help to think of and practise coping strategies.
3. Practise a sensory exercise
Notice five things you can see around you. Then, four things you can touch. Three things you can hear. Two things you can smell. One thing you can taste.
This exercise brings you closer to reality and in control of your senses enough to stop your mind from going into unrealistic catastrophic fears.
4. Focus on a particular object
Pick an object in your surroundings and use it to take your mind off your anxious thoughts. This object might be the leaves of a tree or the moving hands of a clock. Try to notice all the characteristics of that object and study it in detail, directing all your focus to that.
5. Repeat a mantra
Some behavioural therapy techniques use conditioning to attribute a set of words/phrases to calming sensations. When you feel the onset of a panic attack, you can repeat those phrases to try and feel less anxious.
6. Relax your muscles
As part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), therapists use these techniques as a step-by-step approach to calm you down using a combination of physical and mental relaxation. These techniques involve tensing and releasing particular muscle groups. Objects like stress balls are also useful for muscle relaxation.
7. Find a friend
Having someone by your side during a panic attack can be a huge comfort. It also helps keep you grounded while making you feel cared for. This person can help you go through your relaxation techniques, talk to you about what's causing you to be anxious, and look out for you whenever you find yourself in a similar situation.
8. Identify your triggers
If the attacks are repetitive and have a pattern, it’s better to be aware of what can induce them. Identifying your triggers can help you deal with the underlying issue that might be causing the attacks in the first place and reduce the frequency of your panic attacks.
Treatment for panic attacks
If you are experiencing recurring, extreme symptoms, your doctor might prescribe you some medication to manage the attacks. These can include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), or anti-anxiety drugs.
Finally, we want to remind you that with proper treatment, you can manage panic attacks and go about your life feeling more calm, composed, and grounded. We can't stress enough the importance of therapy. Dealing with the underlying issues and seeking CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can slowly help you overcome your attacks with small exercises like breathing and meditation.
Seek professional help today; online therapy can help too, and we can help you with that!