What are panic attacks exactly? Many people talk about such things, but unless you’ve actually suffered one, they’re really hard to describe.
First, here are some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack: dizziness, nausea, tightness in chest and or throat, tingling fingers, hot / cold flashes, racing heart, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, a feeling of being ‘detached’ from reality, and a feeling of impending doom. Really terrifying, right!
O.K. but why do these symptoms occur? In other words, why do some people get panic attacks? Usually, someone who suffers panic attacks already has much higher-than-normal (for them) levels of anxiety. Putting aside why this might be, the result of having elevated anxiety levels is that just one stressful event (e.g. being stuck in an elevator, sitting an exam, etc.) can then push your overall anxiety levels way over the top.
Your body misreads this as you being in a dangerous position and so triggers its primeval ‘fight or flight’ response to help you fight the ‘danger’ or run away from it. It, therefore, triggers important chemical and other changes in your body to give you the best chance of survival. These changes are responsible for the symptoms you experience during a panic attack.
So how do you successfully manage panic attacks? The key is to be aware of as many facts about panic attacks as you can. And you’ve already made a great start just by reading thus far! You now know what the symptoms are and what causes your attacks.
Next, you need to understand that panic attacks cannot harm you and they certainly cannot kill you. This is a medical fact. But even by understanding why they are caused, you can see that they are just symptoms that occur as a result of a perceived threat that isn’t there in reality.
Now, armed with this knowledge, you are in a much better position to manage a panic attack. For example, at the first signs of one coming on, you can act more positively knowing that these symptoms cannot harm you. Even repeat that in your head at those first signs: “I know what this is and I know it can’t harm me.” This can help lessen the severity and shorten the length of your attack.
One of the most horrible symptoms is the rapid heartbeat and shallow, short breathing pattern. If this is allowed to continue your oxygen / carbon dioxide balance gets upset, and the result is even worse. Get back to more relaxed, controlled deeper breathing, in through the nose and out through your mouth.
At the same time, to prevent yourself from analyzing your symptoms and making matters worse, focus outwardly on buildings, trees, cars, people, anything to take attention away from your symptoms. This can help against that horrible ‘being detached from reality’ feeling.