If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, it’s an experience you’ll never forget and one you’ll wish never to have again. These episodes are so fierce and frightening that some people believe they are dying when the panic sets in. Ironically, many people in the throes of a panic attack have no idea what terrifying forces have taken over their bodies and psyche.
What exactly is a panic attack and what can be done to mitigate one? Panic attacks occur out of the blue, without warning, and involve intense, overwhelming floods of fear, panic and/or anxiety. During a panic attack, scary physical and psychological signs and symptoms appear such as a racing heart, chest pain, trouble breathing and trembling. These symptoms lead many to believe they’re having a heart attack or stroke and possibly dying. Additionally, a sense of detachment from reality can set in, further terrifying the individual and provoking a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety which seems to last an eternity.
Speaking of vicious cycles, many people experience repeated panic attacks and understandably, this can be incredibly upsetting. Later we’ll look at some of the techniques you can use to manage the effects of these difficult episodes. For some, it may take a long time to receive a correct assessment of their condition. Complicating matters, some individuals are embarrassed or afraid to talk about what’s going on with them, prolonging the time they’re in pain or anguish when in fact, panic attacks are a highly treatable disorder.
Because panic attacks can feel as if they are life-threatening, many individuals go to the emergency room where they may not be properly diagnosed since their presenting symptoms commonly occur in other conditions such as breathing disorders and heart disease. When panic attacks recur, experts term this condition panic disorder (DSM-5, 2013). Approximately 2-3% of the population in Europe and the U.S. experience panic disorder, with females twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of panic disorder versus males. Experts believe that several factors are behind this statistic, including exposure to stressors and trauma as well as environmental factors. Nonetheless, there is not a theory as to what is behind the difference in diagnosis rates between genders for panic disorder. While women are more likely to report panic disorder, the symptoms remain consistent across genders. Studies show that it is rare for this condition to manifest in individuals younger than 14 or in those over the age of 64. Typically, a panic disorder appears first in adolescence with the frequency rate peaking in young adulthood (early to mid-’20s).
Do you think that you or a loved one is experiencing panic disorder? A professional will be able to diagnose and treat your condition and restore a healthy, balanced quality of life. This is particularly true if panic attacks aggravate an existing medical condition or if you experience a comorbid issue such as depression or substance use disorder.
At the same time, there are resourceful things you can do to address your situation, and we’ll warn you beforehand, the first strategy may seem counterintuitive! For starters, try to approach feelings of fear or panic, versus pushing them away. What do I mean by this? It might seem perfectly logical that to escape a negative situation one would want to run as fast and as far away from it as possible. For example, if a certain environmental trigger is associated with anxiety, avoiding it may make imminent sense. But it may be a band-aid solution to what amounts to a long-term problem. In the short-term, avoidance serves to eliminate troublesome issues but it won’t help if in the long-term you’re not able to consistently sidestep a place or location.
Guided imagery may help in this situation. Guided imagery is a fancy term for imagination, in this case, imagining yourself in a dreaded situation, but being in control and triumphant. If this strategy appeals to you, I encourage you to do a little research online, there are a plethora of resources that will help you understand the basics of guided imagery. Which leads me to my next suggestion, educating yourself about exactly what is going on biologically and emotionally during a typical panic attack. In the case of anxiety, knowledge truly is power because it allows you to be aware of the onset of symptoms and understand how and why your body is responding as it is.
How to Recognize a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are deeply distressing. But, knowing what is happening internally, that you will not die nor “go crazy,” can lessen the severity of symptoms and help you to rebound more quickly. It may seem like a lot to ask, but the process of acknowledging and accepting the experience can go a long way toward calming the symptoms of panic. To sum up, a panic attack occurs when intense fear or discomfort suddenly manifests without warning. The following symptoms are typical of those present in panic attacks:
- Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling detached from reality
- Fear of dying
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy, faint or unsteady
- Feelings of choking
- Fear one is “going crazy”
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling feeling
If you or someone you love is experiencing panic attacks, don’t hesitate to consult a medical professional. Anxiety is a treatable condition and no one should have to suffer due to lack of knowledge, embarrassment or stigma.
Lifelong recovery is possible: all you need to do is reach out. Starbent Recovery was founded on the belief that people suffering from addictive disorders, trauma, and other co-occurring issues can thrive in the right environment. Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. We offer individualized tier level programs and guidance with residents’ personal recovery and independent living goals. Our safe, peer residence offers luxury amenities and is located in the heart of upscale Tribeca close to multiple subway lines and surrounded by trendy dining and shopping. To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.