Have you ever experienced shortage of breath? Or the feeling as if your heart is pounding even harder than a train on a track? These could be the after-effects of a heavy workout, but what if you experience these symptoms in the dead of the night or during the normal course of the day? If you have experienced something like this – then you could have undergone an episode of anxiety or panic attack.
Panic attacks can seem extremely similar to a heart attack, which makes the person having them even more scared while having it. But if it’s not a heart attack, then what is going on in the body that causes a panic attack?
Difference Between a Heart Attack and Panic Attack
Unlike a heart attack which is caused due to blockage of the coronary arteries, a panic attack is triggered by stress or fear. A panic attack is caused when the Amygdala senses danger and it sends message to the sympathetic nervous system, this in turn releases adrenaline – creating physiological symptoms as if there is a life & death situation in front of the person.
Thus, a person ends up getting into a ‘fight or flight’ mode, which one experiences when facing any kind of physical threat. The heart starts pumping blood in full force to all organs, hands get sweaty, a strange feeling of fear creeps in but in all this what the person is unable to comprehend is, why this is happening. Thereby, a person ends up fearing even more & falling prey to the symptoms more often as time goes on.
Information About Panic Attacks
Now you may think what could one fear when fast asleep that can cause a panic attack in the middle of the night or in a similar situation? While the true reasons for panic attack might be unknown, it is believed that certain situations can trigger memories of trauma in the past that can cause such a form of trauma. Panic attacks are also common in several anxiety disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder or Social Anxiety Disorder. If untreated in the early stages this can lead to Panic disorder which is caused due to stress regarding panic attacks & even behavioral changes.
The data collected by researchers shows that estimated 10 in every 100000 people in India have panic attack. Whereas, according to Canadian Mental Health Association, third of the Canadian adult population may suffer from panic attack in any given year.
Treatment for Panic Attacks
Panic Disorder can be treated with anti-depressants or cognitive behavioral therapy with a 40% chance of recovery. While anti-depressants are administered, in severe cases it is CBT that has a long-term positive impact in overcoming or controlling the anxiety disorder.
During CBT, a therapist helps identify the causes or thoughts that lead to the panic attack. The therapist then helps the patient by teaching them techniques to calm panic attacks. The therapist also helps with cognitive re-structuring, which means that they identify the common thought that engulfs you during a panic attack. Thoughts such as: “I am having a heart attack” or “I am going to die”. The therapist then re-structures these thoughts replacing these scary thoughts with more positive thoughts. The next phase is introducing & understanding the situations which act as triggers causing the panic attack, revisiting them and instilling a belief that the situation isn’t as scary as it seems.
How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack
While visiting a behavioral therapist for containing panic attacks should be on top of your list if someone close to you is experiencing a panic attack, below you’ll find some methods on how to deal with panic attacks.
1. Observe & Identify
A heart attack & panic attack might seem the same. So, to rule out a heart attack you need to ensure that the person is not experiencing any chest pain along with breathlessness & a pacing heart. A panic attack usually settles within 20 minutes but a heart attack can go on for longer.
2. Keep Calm
When you’re calm, you can think more clearly and become more dependable for the person who’s having a panic attack. You can make the right decisions for the person having an attack with a calm mind & just being present.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions, Ask.Ask what the person needs. Ask what they need to maintain their calmness in a new situation and be available for them if there is anything triggering around for that person.
4. Speak in Short, Simple SentencesUnderstand that the person having a panic attack is not in the condition to talk much and explain things. So try speaking simple sentences like: “Tell me what you need now.”, “What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous.” “I am here, you are safe”
5. Help with Breathing ExercisesHelp the person by breathing with them. Count slowly till 10 and go breath by breath with them. This will help them slow their racing heart and breathing.
How to Calm a Panic Attack
But in case you do not have anyone around while you undergo a panic attack, then here are a few breathing exercises that can help you calm down while having an episode.
1. Take Slow, Deep Breaths
i. When you feel that your breath is going out of control, focus your attention on each inhale and exhale.
ii. Feel your stomach fill with air as you inhale.
iii. Then, count till 4 as you exhale.
iv. Repeat this until your breath slows down.
2. Focus Your Attention on a Single Object
During a panic attack, it sometimes helps to focus all your attention on a single object. Note all its smallest attributes – its size, color, and shape.
3. Try Closing Your EyesDuring a panic attack, it might help to close your eyes.
4. Do Some Light ExerciseWhen you walk to do some light exercise, your body releases endorphin which relaxes the body and lightens up your mood.
5. Picture Your ‘Comfortable Place’When undergoing a panic attack, it can help to picture a place that you feel most comfortable in. It can be a beach, near a fireplace or in the presence of someone close to you. This place should make you feel comfortable, safe and relaxed.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks
The best way to prevent panic attacks is to perform slow diaphragmatic breathing. This exercise is used to prevent attacks. This should not be used while a person is having an attack. Here are the steps:
1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor.
2. Fold your hands on your belly.
3. Breathe in slowly and calmly.
4. Fill up the belly with a normal breath. Try not to breathe in too heavily. The hands should move up when you breathe in, as if you are filling up a balloon.
5. Avoid lifting the shoulders as you inhale; rather, breathe into the stomach.
6. Breathe out slowly to the count of “5.”
7. Try to slow down the rate of the exhale.
8. After the exhale, hold for 2-3 seconds before inhaling again.
9. Work to continue to slow down the pace of the breath.
10. Practice this for about 10 minutes.
Guided Meditation for Panic Attacks
In case you want to hear an expert take you through a breathing, click on the link for a meditation technique for panic attacks.
Panic Disorder Counseling and Panic Attack Therapy
Panic attacks can be frightening to experience on a regular basis. Recurring panic attacks can result in a condition known as panic disorder. If not treated, panic disorder symptoms can have a significant impact on daily activities and make it difficult to lead a happy life. United We Care offers therapy for panic attacks which has led to significantly improved lives. Talk to a therapist today by checking out our psychotherapy counseling services.