3 things to know about panic attacks

Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and mimic physical illness.

There are 3 things that are helpful to know.

First, although they feel very frightening, panic attacks are not physically dangerous. Panic is a form of acute anxiety. It normally begins suddently and seem to come out of the blue. You might have been anxious at the time, but you could just as likely have been feeling calm. This sudden onset can feel terrifying, because you feel you are always at risk. You feel you could never know when it might happen, so it might happen any time. This feels like you have no control over panic. Anxiety causes many uncomfortable physical sensations, including chest pain, palpitations, tingling or numbness. So you might feel as though you are having a heart attack. At A&E it is reassuring to be advised that it is panic. Some people feel faint, with dizziness and shaking legs, maybe a feeling like a spaceman walking on the moon or a strange out of body experience. However, anxiety raises blood pressure and you faint when blood pressure is low.

Second, panic attacks are short-lived. They usually reach a peak in a few minutes and have gone in 20 minutes.

Third, people who have had one panic attack are more likely to have subsequent panic attacks. So getting help early on will reduce the risk. Psychological help, like the therapy I offer, is regarded as the most effective for long-term protection, and your GP can offer medication too. The approach that I use is effective, fast and safe. At the end of a short programme of therapy you will be able to manage the physical sensations without fear, allowing them to quieten down while you feel relaxed and secure. You will feel more resilient, more confident and in control.

Because panic seems to come out of the blue, you can see that somone would be on the alert for any recognisable symptoms, to give them some chance of nipping it in the bud. But being on the lookout for symptoms raises the level of general anxiety, and makes another attack more likely. It becomes a vicious cycle.

This fear of another attack can end up with us avoiding places or activities which we associate with feelings of panic. Some people stop driving or travelling by plane, or can't leave the house.  Others avoid exercise to keep their heart rate low, because palpitations have become a source of fear. Stopping doing all those enjoyable activities can make you feel like a prisoner in your own home. Some people feel their life has become dull, empty and meaningless.

Getting treatment now will get you back to enjoying your life again.  And there are helpful things you can do at home:

Avoid caffeine. It mimics the sensations of anxiety and these sensations can make folk worry. Caffeine is not just in coffee. Fizzy drinks and energy drinks have high concentrations. Alcohol and recreational drugs also generate physical sensations which can be misinterpreted as panic.

Do some aerobic exercise. A short run or brisk walk, or even energetically waving your arms about, can get rid of the sensations.

Breathing exercises. Try this. Breathe in through your nose for 5. Hold for the count of 5 or a bit more if you can. Then breathe out very slowly through your mouth very slowly, as though you were trying to wobble a candle flame, but not blow it out.

Get help. Try my self help pages. See your GP. Seek out some talking therapy. Anxiety therapy is effective and safe.

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