Panic attacks are unforeseen episodes of extreme distress that result in acute physical responses when no danger exists in reality.
These episodes can be highly unsettling – if this happens to you, you may feel like you are having a cardiac arrest or are slowly suffocating.
The prevalence of panic disorder is around 5%, with most people only experience this any more than a couple of times in their lives, and they fully recover – maybe after going through a challenging period.
However, if you have experienced recurrent feelings of panic and spent lengthy periods fearing another episode, you might suffer from a condition known as panic disorder.
While such problems are not fatal, they are disconcerting and have a significant impact on your life.
Thankfully though, effective treatments are available.
Panic attack symptoms appear out of the blue and normally become most intense after ten minutes.
It is rare for them to last longer than sixty minutes, and the majority of them end after twenty to thirty minutes.
These symptoms can occur at any time, in any location.
For example, you might get them while you are in the supermarket, driving your vehicle, cooking a meal at home, or walking through town.
The most common symptoms are:
- Rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Hyperventilation or breathing difficulties
- Shaking or trembling
- Discomfort or pain in the chest
- Feeling detached from the environment
- Choking sensation
- Upset tummy or nausea
- Sweating profusely
- Sensations of tingling or numbness
- Feeling weak, light-headed, faint, or dizzy
- Fear of going mad, dying, or losing control
- Cold or hot flashes
While the precise causes of these symptoms are uncertain, they are often hereditary.
In addition, there seems to be a link with big life events, like college graduations, starting a new job, becoming pregnant, or getting engaged.
Stressful incidents, like losing your job, a family bereavement, or a divorce, can also produce symptoms.
It is possible to treat panic attacks when the underlying causes are established. Typically, medical problems and other variables – such as substance abuse or substance withdrawal – are eliminated from consideration prior to diagnosis. The options that might be presented to you include:
- Relaxation Methods – With regular practice, activities like progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, and yoga make you calmer and help to counteract the feelings of stress induced by panic and anxiety. As well as promoting relaxation, these techniques also make you feel equanimous and joyful.
- Deep Breathing – During a panic attack, you often hyperventilate, and this can cause numerous sensations – like tightness in the chest and light-headedness. Breathing deeply is an effective way of easing these symptoms. With a controlled approach to breathing, you will be less excitable when you start to experience anxiety. This has a positive knock-on effect because it means you will be less prone to produce sensations you are scared of.
- SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) – These popular anti-depressant drugs are prescribed to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The human brain produces serotonin neurotransmitters naturally. SSRI drugs function by selectively influencing serotonin and stopping it from being absorbed by the brain’s nerve cells. As a result, SSRIs ensure that serotonin functions in a balanced way. In turn, this enhances mood and lowers anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines – These anti-anxiety drugs are often prescribed to treat panic disorders. Renowned for their sedative properties, these drugs can rapidly quell the symptoms of a panic attack and promote a calmer state. They slow your central nervous system down by engaging the brain’s GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. This induces a relaxed sensation. Despite the side effects and possible risks associated with these drugs, benzodiazepines are proven to treat panic disorders effectively and safely. Suffice to say, no two people are the same, so what is effective for one person will not always work for someone else. It is vital to treat panic attacks at an early stage though. This can stop other related conditions from developing, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, and depression.