Don’t Panic!

Have you ever had a huge hand of terror push you down suddenly for no apparent reason? Then you may have had a panic attack. If this happens often, then you may be suffering from Panic Disorder — a kind of super anxiety disorder that can do serious damage. Today, we will talk about how to recognize a panic attack and how to cure panic disorder.

What is a Panic Attack

According to HealthLine, a panic attack is an “abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes.” In simple words it means, panic attacks are sudden, high dosage of fear that come for no real reason, crippling you and causing physical discomforts — like difficulty in breathing.

We all panic at times when the situation gets dire, there’s nothing odd about that. Fear is actually a healthy drive that enables you to recognize, assess, and counter threats. And sudden, high fear, which is called panic, enables us to take rapid actions or to hunker down, protecting ourselves.

Normal fear is actually healthy.

How a Panic Attack Feels

The symptoms of panic attack can vary from person to person, but they are generally of two types — sudden massive fear, or massive physical discomfort. Or both. The following panic attack symptoms are quite common:

      • Heart beating very fast
      • Hard to breathe
      • Choking feelings
      • Tightness or pain in chest
      • Death experience
      • Feeling dizzy, everything is spinning
      • Hard to concentrate on anything
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Feeling that this is the end
      • Sweat, cold sweat, or cold
      • Uncontrollable shaking
      • Out-of-body experience (feeling you’re not there)
      • Hand or feet going numb, or tingling

Not everybody has every one of these symptoms, and they may come separately or together. Sometimes these feelings and discomfort may stay on for up to 20 minutes — though most panic attacks are over in 5 minutes or so.

When these symptoms are happening to you for no clear threat or reason, then you’re having a panic attack. Try to relax. They may come at specific times for some people; but for most panic disorder patients it happens quite unpredictably.

It literally feels like my world is falling apart — like whatever thing that has just happened is apocalyptic, even if it’s actually a really small thing.

— anonymous patient

panic attack pounding heart

Diagnosing Panic Attacks

The problem here is, many of these conditions are similar to heart attacks. Many people having a panic attack for the first time think that they are having a heart attack… which may up the dose of the fear. And it is hard to figure out which is which looking only at the external symptoms.

So, if you think you’re having a panic attack, for the first time, you should still go to the hospital immediately, because it may very well be something far deadlier. At the emergency room of the hospital, they will check your heart for signs of an attack. They will also check your blood for toxic substances that may show a similar effect.

If it is found that you are physically okay (considering the circumstances), you can talk to a psychiatrist about the matter. A proper mental healthcare professional will be able to set you right soon, provided you follow their instructions.

How to Prevent Panic Attacks

Recurrent panic attacks are the symptoms of panic disorder, and to fix that you need the help of an experienced psychologist or psychiatrist. In most cases, panic disorder can be slowed down by therapy, like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and similar. 

In severe cases, you may need some medication to suppress the agitated nerves. These are mostly SSRI-type (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) drugs, or simpler antidepressants.

If you feel you’re not in a serious panic disorder and want to fix it on your own — it’s not entirely possible, but you can surely have some healthy practices to be mentally healthier. This will help reduce how often the panic attacks happen, or how strongly.

Breathe! Just keep breathing!

You can try the following:

    • Practice deep breathing. When you see you’re getting some of the symptoms, hold yourself and breathe deeply and evenly. Concentrate on the breath only. This will reduce the chest tightness and heart pounding issues quite quickly — the rest you can handle easily.
    • Keep a disciplined daily schedule. Panic attacks are often the result of an unorganized mind and haphazard lifestyle. Make your life and affairs run like clockwork — your mind will catch up.
    • Exercise daily. This is another way to discipline ourselves. Plus, regular physical work releases healthy hormones in the body.
    • Get enough sleep. Stop late-night activities, and turn down that phone. Lack of sleep, and irregular rest are huge causes for all types of mental issues including panic attacks.
    • Cut back on the coffee. Caffeine or similar stimulants increase the chance of panic attacks. The same goes for alcohol.

Talk to someone. Most of us have a lot of luggage to bear. Get a real friend and unload some of it. Talk about your fears and tensions openly. Get it off your chest. It will be hugely beneficial.

panic attack
image from huffingtonpost

Why do Panic Attacks Happen

Hard to say! The human mind is still a very complicated knot for us and we’re not even close to unlock most of the secrets of how a mind works. However, studies show that panic attacks can be related to the following:

    1. Genetics: if your family has a long history of the nerves, chances are you’ll have them too.
    2. Big changes: dramatic alterations of your way of life, like working in a completely new environment or getting married, can bring about panic attacks — because of the fear of the unknown. Major life transitions can cause major fear; this is why having a detailed, disciplined plan is best.
    3. Feminine matters: maybe it has something to do with the hormones. According to research done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), indian women are more prone to having panic attacks and to progress towards panic disorders than men.
    4. Trauma: After experiencing something extremely shocking to the point of snapping the mind, we may experience panic attacks along with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These are often the worst cases.

Women are more prone to panic attacks than men.

Can Panic Disorder be Cured Completely

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that panic disorder goes away completely. This is something with roots deep inside your very soul. But with regular therapy and medication, they can be suppressed enough so that they are no longer a problem in your life. 

Some people with panic disorder have ‘phases’ in their lives when they are better. It goes up and down. Some other people don’t respond to therapy at all — hard medication for them. 

However, the good news is that most people do get cured — mostly — by standard therapy and a bit of medicinal help along the way.

One of the owners of this blog used to have panic attacks before and during job interviews; with only a small therapy and medication it is almost gone now, leaving a much happier and successful person behind.

You too will be alright. Don’t worry.

Author: Swarna Karmakar

Swarna is an experienced content writer and marketer from Kolkata, India. His amateur interest in psychology, born out of mental health troubles he has experienced himself and among his friends and family, has led him to the dream that is Our Clear Minds. He works as a Senior Content Writer, and enjoys instrumental music and science fiction books in his pass time.