Let’s talk about panic attacks

in psychology •  24 days ago

Introduction


Imagine spending your day doing regular stuff, nothing out of the ordinary, and you suddenly start to feel a weird difficulty when breathing, and without any justification, your heart starts to beat faster than normal. All of this while being in the safety of your home and without any threat that could represent a danger to your physical integrity.

If that happened, it would be the manifestation of a panic attack, an experience that is very unpleasant to everyone that goes through it.

Panic attacks is something that we have all heard, but most people don’t experience it, and something similar could be said regarding the understanding of this phenomenon.

What are panic attacks all about?


A panic attack is a sudden rush of fear and anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere and causes both physical and psychological symptoms. The level of fear experienced is unrealistic and completely out of proportion to the events or circumstances that trigger a panic attack. Anyone can have a single panic attack, but frequent and ongoing episodes may be a sign of a panic or anxiety disorder. | Source

Panic attacks can be seen as the sudden manifestation of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by some signs that appear abruptly after being on a relaxed state, it usually last for a few minutes and when it is experienced, the person has the feeling he is in a dangerous situation even if it is not the case, so the nervous system triggers our survival mode and certain reactions are manifested which are hard to control.

When you feel threatened, your survival mode kicks into gear. Survival mode focuses most of your attention on helping yourself out of the threatening or potentially threatening situation. In survival mode your ability to show altruism or even love is diminished, and you push people away—literally and energetically. The thing about feeling threatened is that it can either be a real threat or it can be something you fear might happen. | Source

It must be taken into account that a panic attack alone can not be considered as the issue itself. Panic attacks are rather the consequence of suffering any anxiety disorder there might be, or different types of phobias, other problems as depression, post traumatic stress disorder, among many others that can make an individual be in an emotional state more delicate than normal, which makes him more prone to lose control of his body when panic starts to set in.

The symptoms of panic attacks usually appear very fast and reach their maximum expression in a few minutes. Some of the most common ones are the following:

  • "Racing" heart
  • Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
  • Sense of terror, or impending doom or death
  • Feeling sweaty or having chills
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling a loss of control | Source

However, there are different ways that we can experience those signs associated with a panic attack for no apparent reason and even if we find ourselves in a state of calmness.

For example, moving from lying down to getting up quickly, or being too suffocated by heat, can lead to a low blood pressure. When this happens, some symptoms occur such as dizziness and faintness, as well as others. Or when we go through very stressful situations, our body releases adrenaline and other neurotransmitters such as cortisol which can cause some common signs with the panic attack like a racing heartbeat.

Other thing that can also happen is that even without the person being aware of it, he could tend to breathe really quickly without taking proper pause and this can lead to breathing difficulties like hyperventilation.

The panic attack happens because the person sees a certain situation, that is considered as ordinary and regular, as threatening and extremely dangerous, so he tends to give catastrophic interpretations when experiencing them, like for example a sensation that he is about to die, or perhaps he is going crazy and losing control. It is enough for the person to believe that he is really in danger for his alarm system to be activated and trigger a series of intense reactions. The fact is these catastrophic thoughts activate his alarm system and as a result he experiences emotions, sensations and behaviors typical of a panic attack.

While a single panic attack may only last a few minutes, the effects of the experience can leave a lasting imprint. If you have panic disorder, the recurrent panic attacks take an emotional toll. The memory of the intense fear and terror that you felt during the attacks can negatively impact your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life. | Source

How does panic attacks affect us?


Every person can suffer from a panic attack in a particular moment of their lives and in most cases, people don’t give much importance to it. They tend to attribute them to just being momentarily nervous, or simply stress, among other causes that no one considers something to worry about.

However, some people who experience it may be distressed and afraid to have more attacks in the future. When this happens, this person will be more vigilant towards any type of sensation, which will increase the likelihood of perceiving everything more intensely. This same attention will facilitate the development of new panic attacks, because in any situation that the person considers is out of the ordinary (even if it is not), he will gave catastrophic interpretations, resulting in a vicious circle and new panic attacks

When panic attacks are recurrent and fear is intense and close to permanent, this can certain consequences as the developing of a panic disorder, which is “is characterized by uncontrollable, recurrent episodes of panic and fear that peak within minutes”. | Source

This disorder is when the panic attacks have become something unforeseen and recurrent. The person remains in a state of worry about future panic attacks and he begins to avoid the situations he thinks might trigger that reaction.

It is common for people who constantly suffer from panic attacks to develop agoraphobia, since they can begin to avoid situations or places, such as going to buy the groceries, visiting crowded places and pretty much everything that requires them to go outside. They may even not get out of their house for a long time. This is because they fear they will have a panic attack and the safe decision is to simply remain at home.

On the other hand, if the person doesn’t do the necessary things to eliminate panic attacks, he would be more likely to develop depression, because as time pass he will tend to isolate himself from his family and friends, his overall socialization will decrease, resulting in an emotional well being and a self esteem being negatively affected because of his isolation.

No one is comfortable if they have to be careful in case a panic attack is common, so the enjoyment of any activity they might do will also decrease.

Some consequences of having recurrent panic attacks are the following:

  • Loss of social support
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor work performance that could lead to job loss and eventually financial trouble
  • Increased risk of suicidal tendencies
  • Decrease in quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Increased risk of disability. | Source

For people suffering from this issue taking a deep, slow breath can be a good way to handle it, because it is a well known activity that always ends up relaxing the person, which is exactly what someone suffering from panic attacks needs, besides by trying to relax, the person can also stop focusing about fighting against those feelings and avoiding the coming crisis, just by taking the time to breath the person should eventually realize that nothing bad happened, and the potential threat was actually non existent since the beginning.

Conclusion


Panic attacks are something that will always reduce the quality of life of anyone who experiences them, and with time, it can create a kind of snowball effect, enabling other related issues to also manifest themselves and ending up with a much more complicate situation than the one at the beginning of these attacks.

Since this is one of many problems caused by the perception of the individual in question, he would have to adopt certain strategies in order to realize that the panic he is feeling is something disproportionate and with no logical justification. Panic is something we should normally feel when there is an imminent danger, so we can react faster and avoid suffering any damage. But this is not the case with panic attacks since there is no danger whatsoever, therefore, what is triggering this sensation is nothing more than a flaw in the thought pattern of the person, and understanding this should be of great help to someone that is going through this difficult situation.


Have you ever experienced a panic attack? If so, how did you managed it?



References

britannica – panic attacks

psychologytoday – panic attack

belmontbehavioral – effects of panic disorder

helpguide - panic attacks

selfgrowth - survival mode

psychologytoday – panic disorder

addictionhope – panic attacks

psychguides - panic disorder


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Awesome post. Had severe generalized anxiety for 20 years. Then an episode triggered panic atracks and severe hyperventilation, that again made anxiety worse. In all sorts of situstions or spaces i could not escape, like a meeting, train or in a car i would start panicing. My legs and arms locked up due to hypoxia. First tingling sensation..then i knew it was on. Then i had to get out of the situation before i was unable to move. First time it happened i thought i was having a stroke or somethinh.

Ive learned to control my adrenaline and desensitivize my amygdala. I had to learn my brain to not react with fight or flight to every little situation. Its like you say..years and years you go around not really understandung whats wrong. And many feel pretty bad their entire life using drugs etc. But if you have a complete breakdown..or breakthrough as i like to call it. You can start remaking your brain. It takes time though. Im 4 years in. From a child to 32 i was at a 30/100 when it comes to quality of life..anxiety level etc. Post breakthrough i was at 5/100. Now im at 70. Exercise, changing thought patterns, basically recoding your mindset.

The cure is in you deciding to change. There is no other way. Its a choice. It takes dedication and time and knowledge.

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Mate I didn't know you suffered from these issues, from what you describe in your first paragraph it was surely very intense.

But just as you said, if the person really focus his energy in figuring out how to overcome it, with time, it will be done.

Thanks for sharing your experience I am happy to see you here!

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Thanks man! Yeah..my anxiety inhibited me alot. I did not understand what it was or why i did what i did. Had no concept of emotions or feelings. All just a mess. Could not explain or put things into word or any meaning. At a certain age it accumulates (for many) and you end up at a crossroad. Go down or start over.

Thanks for writing about it.

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You pretty much have to hit rock bottom before you can start the long road to recovery. I think that the process teaches you what's truly valuable in life and what your real priorities should be.

Time, dedication and knowledge is right. Pills can help a bit, but they are a temporary solution at best and come with a host of their own side-effects and other problems.

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Agree. One really have to hit bottom. Unfortunately many stay there. It is very hard to recover. You get no help and you have to find out everything yourself. Empower yourself and take control. Stop being afraid.

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The help can be a big issue. It's amazing how "friends" suddenly vanish into thin air when you need them. I lost most of mine, and I'm not sorry. The ones who stayed are the good ones!

Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. Got quite a collection of them actually.

Nicely written. This sort of information is important and it is important that what you write is true and correct - and you have done that very well.

As you say, the attacks themselves are not the real problem, they are merely a manifestation of an underlying problem, probably some form of anxiety.

It is important for sufferers to try to address the underlying issue. Mine was caused by a long series of bad and stressful experiences. These things tend to build up in your brain, especially in more introverted character types, and eventually come out in the form of things like panic attacks.

To control mine I attempt to alleviate stress. It works, but there are limits to what you can do, and I have reached the limit of what I can currently control. Fortunately it is enough to keep the panic attacks away - just - but I know that I am doing constant damage to my body and mind by remaining in a high-stress environment.

In a rather radical, but not poorly planned move, I have decided to leave my incredible stressful job of over 20 years. The working environment puts the word "toxic" to shame. That brings with it a whole host of new financial based problems, but I am willing to aim for the lesser of two evils in order to further reduce my stress levels and improve my quality of life.

At the end of the day we all need to take responsibility for taking charge of our own destinies. Sometimes it's very difficult to do (I'm really scared of what may happen a few months from now, but I'm not going to stay in my (uncomfortable) comfort zone), but with some courage and (if you're lucky) the support of others, you owe it to yourself to try.

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I have decided to leave my incredible stressful job of over 20 years

That decision must have been very difficult to take.

new financial based problems, but I am willing to aim for the lesser of two evils

It makes sense, no reason to earn more money if our health is getting damaged.

Thanks for sharing your experience with that wonderful comment, I think you took a brave decision and it will pay off with time.

Cheers!

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Thanks man, thanks for your original post. These issues need to be made known to society as a whole. I find very little sympathy from those who have not been through it themselves.

Reading this post, i can now relate it to the experience I had some time ago. It was really terrible and I was sweating so profusely... It was like being overwhelmed by what I cannot even pinpoint as the cause. I simply took a nap and woke up to find it no more.

And thank God that I never get worried about the possibility of having such experience. And it never recurred.

You just captured everything in this post, but I never knew it was panic. Now I know. And at the same time, I wish I never red this post because I may unknowingly begin to entertain fears about it. I hope this this doesn't become the case.

@eurogee of @euronation and @steemstem communities

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Have no fear, it does not happen always.

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I wish I never red this post because I may unknowingly begin to entertain fears about it

I wouldn't worry if I were you. The problem with these attacks is if they happen too often, not just once.

Cheers @eurogee and thanks for sharing your experience with this!

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I think everyone of us have experienced this in life. I saw some people who just cant bear this and fall into complete breakdown bcz of this.
Btw, a very good article bro. :)
Cheers!

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Thanks mate, I am glad you like it!

Nice post. I first heard of panic attacks when watching a seasonal movie called SUITS. I have learned a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing!

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I haven't watched that movie, is it a movie or a series?

Hi @dedicatedguy I have had this misfortune of experiencing 2 panic attacks in my life. The second time I was driving in peak hour traffic when it occured and my reaction was to pull off to the side. For a moment I thought I was having a heart attack as I had chest pains and tingling up my arms and hands. But the overarching symptoms were to reiterate your list:

  • Sense of terror, or impending doom or death
  • Feeling sweaty or having chills
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling a loss of control

In addition, there was a feeling of being detached from oneself, like looking from the outside. I think that feeling gives rise to the terror and loss of control.

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I am sorry for that mate, from what you are telling me it was very intense.

Why do you triggered that attack? Perhaps the traffic?

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If I had to guess, it might have been caffeine (I drink a lot of coffee and coke - which I cut down on subsequently and never had a repeat incident).