What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a powerful wave of fear, characterized by its unexpected and debilitating intensity. Your heart is beating and you can’t breathe, and you may feel like you are dying or going crazy. Panic attacks usually come on suddenly, without warning, and sometimes without clear triggering conditions. They may even occur when you are relaxing or asleep.
Panic attacks may be one-off, although many people experience repeated attacks. Recurring panic attacks are usually triggered by specific situations, such as crossing a bridge or talking in public—especially if the situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the situation that causes panic is that you feel endangered and cannot escape, which triggers a fight or escape response in the body.
You may experience one or more panic attacks, but in other ways you will be very happy and healthy. Otherwise your panic attack may be part of another illness, such as panic disease, social phobia or depression. Regardless of the cause, panic attacks can be treated. There are strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate panic symptoms, restore confidence and regain control of your life.
Panic attack signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop suddenly, usually reaching a peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, and most will end within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. There may be one person when you are shopping in a store, walking down the street, driving or even sitting on the sofa at home.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Heart palpitations or racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking feeling
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Hot or cold flashes
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Causes of panic attacks and panic disorder
Although the exact cause of panic attacks and panic disorder is not yet known, the tendency for panic attacks still exists in families. It also seems to be related to major life changes, such as graduating from college, entering the workplace, getting married or having children. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or unemployment, can also trigger a panic attack.
Medical conditions and other physical reasons can also cause panic attacks. If you suffer from panic disorder, be sure to see your doctor to rule out the following possibilities:
- Mitral valve prolapse, a minor cardiac problem that occurs when one of the heart’s valves doesn’t close correctly
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine)
- Medication withdrawal
Self-help tips for panic attacks
Whether you feel powerless or out of control about a panic attack, it is important to know that there are many things you can do to help yourself. The following self-service techniques can greatly help you overcome panic:
Understand panic and anxiety.
Just knowing more about panic can greatly ease your troubles. Read about the anxiety, panic disorder, and fight or escape reactions experienced during a panic attack. You will find that the feelings and feelings of panic are normal and you will not go crazy.
Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine.
These will cause panic attacks in susceptible people. If you need help to quit smoking, see how to quit smoking. In addition, please pay attention to drugs that contain stimulants, such as diet pills and non-drowsy cold medicines.
Learn how to control breathing.
Hyperventilation can produce many sensations during a panic attack (for example, dizziness and chest tightness). On the other hand, deep breathing can relieve panic symptoms. By learning to control your breathing, you can calm yourself down when you start to feel anxious. Moreover, if you know how to control your breathing, you are unlikely to feel scared.
Practice relaxation techniques.
When practicing regularly, activities such as yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation will enhance the body’s relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response involved in anxiety and panic. These relaxation exercises not only promote relaxation, but also increase the feeling of pleasure and ease.
Communicate face to face with family and friends.
When you feel isolated, the symptoms of anxiety disorders may get worse, so please contact people who care about you regularly. If you feel that no one can ask for help, explore ways to meet new people and build supportive friendships.
Exercise is a natural way to relieve anxiety, so in most cases, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes (three sessions of 10 minutes exercise are equally effective). Rhythmic aerobic exercise requires special movement of hands and legs, such as walking, running, swimming or dancing.
Insufficient sleep or poor quality can increase anxiety, so try to get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep every night. If you feel that you are not sleeping well, these tips to help you get a good night’s sleep may be helpful.
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