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.
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?
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