Have you ever felt like everyone in the room was watching you? Have you ever found it difficult to breathe, or become paralized out of fear? Perhaps you’ve had an upset stomach and sweaty palms before a big event. These are all examples of panic attacks, and for some, they can be crippling. Panic attacks are episodes of extreme fear that something bad is going to happen. They come on suddenly, without warning and are often unprovoked by any outside source or reason.
In addition to the feelings of intense fear and terror, panic attacks are characterized by physical symptoms that often mimic those of a heart attack including chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating or chills. hot flashes, nausea, heart palpitations, dizziness, numbness or tingling in the face or hands and feet, or other physical symptoms.
During a panic attack, it may feel as though everything is spinning out of control. While most panic attacks reach their peak after 10 or 20 minutes, they may last for a couple hours or more and fluctuate in intensity for the duration.
Causes of Panic Attacks
There are many causes of panic attacks, some people are genetically predisposed to them, while others can develop them after going through a traumatizing life event. Even major stress events can bring about panic attacks to someone who has never experienced them. Weddings, job interviews, meeting your partner’s family, a major exam in college, these stressful events can all cause panic attacks.
Others develop panic attacks after years of substance abuse. Drugs like marijuana, cocaine, Xannax and even alcohol can cause people to develop panic attacks, even if they never had them before.
Treating a Panic Attack
If you have mild panic attacks, practicing mindfulness and deep breathing exercises are great ways to get out of your head and focus your attention elsewhere. If you find yourself having a panic attack it could be helpful to take your mind off what is bothering you by doing something you enjoy. Baking, jogging, coloring, writing, taking pictures, whatever your hobbies may be.
Treatment options for panic attacks vary partially based on the cause of the panic attacks. Underlying disorders or conditions, including substance use, can influence the methods used for treating panic attacks. Someone who uses drugs or alcohol to cope with anxiety and panic attacks is known to have a dual diagnosis. Common addictions such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can also contribute to the cause and intensity of panic attacks.
Working with a therapist is the best way to begin treating your panic attacks and anxiety. Your therapist will work on you to help figure out the causes of your panic attacks and provide you with proper coping skills to get through them. Your therapist will also discuss education and prevention. Preventing panic attacks involves recognizing possible triggers and identifying when a panic attack is about to occur. Deep breathing exercises, reducing caffeine and sugar intake, increasing exercise and incorporating healthy eating combined with cognitive behavior therapy is helpful in managing and preventing oncoming panic attacks.
Psychotherapy is often used in conjunction with medications as well. Medications such as serotonin inhibitors, which are commonly prescribed for depression, are often used as a preventative medication for panic attacks as well. Other medications, such as benzodiazepines and beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed for managing a panic attack at the time it is occurring. They have a sedative effect and can reduce the intensity of symptoms during the peak of a panic attack. Mindfulness and other holistic therapies have often been proven to help treat and manage panic attacks.
Panic attacks can be frightening and sometimes even crippling. However, addressing your panic attacks with a qualified therapist can put you on the road to making them more manageable and less frequent. So take a deep breath, and tell yourself this too shall pass.
Surrender the Outcome
When we have a major life event we want to be as prepared as we can to get the desired outcome. This obsession to have everything go our way can cause panic and anxiety. Learning to surrender the outcome of events can lead to a less stressful and worry-free life. This is not an easy task, many people struggle with this every day. However, if you are experiencing high stress and a potential panic attack, learn to tell yourself that the outcome is not the end of the world, no matter how bad it may seem. We can all be our biggest critics but doubting and wondering will only cause more stress.