Panic Attacks: Causes and Treatments
Panic attacks aren’t usually dangerous, but they can be very distressing for those who suffer from them. Knowing more about them can help you respond to them more effectively and maybe even avoid them. Here’s what you need to know about panic attacks and what you can do about them.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a rush of intense psychological and physical symptoms. Sufferers usually feel an overwhelming feeling of fear or anxiety, and sometimes a sense of unreality, as if they’re detached from the world around them. They may also experience heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling and nausea. Panic attacks usually last between 5 and 20 minutes.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
It’s unclear what the underlying cause of panic attacks is. Your panic attacks may be associated with a health condition such as depression, a psychological issue such as a phobia, or lifestyle factors like alcohol or drug abuse. They may begin after a serious illness, accident or other traumatic event, such as the death of someone close to you. Some people have panic attacks for no discernible reason at all.
What are the Treatment Options?
Because people have panic attacks for so many different reasons, treatment varies from person to person. Typically, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy and/or medication are used to help people who suffer from panic attacks regularly.
If you’re in the middle of a panic attack, there are things you can do which may help to reduce the symptoms. Try the following:
- Slow down your breathing by breathing in deeply through your nose and slowly breathing out through your mouth.
- Focus on thinking the word “calm”. This can take your focus away from feelings of panic and help you to relax.
- Try to identify the parts of your body which become the most tense during the attack and relax them. Allowing yourself to stand rigid and tense will only make you feel worse.
After a panic attack you may feel tired, so you might want to rest. If your panic attack is not just a one-off, it can be a good idea to keep a panic diary. Keeping a note of when your panic attacks occur may help you identify potential triggers. It can also help you notice the important aspects of your panic attack so you can respond to them more effectively over time.
How Can Panic Attacks be Prevented?
If your attacks are related to another physical or psychological problem, treating that condition will be the key to avoiding panic attacks. For others, following these tips may help you prevent them:
- Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking, which have been known to make panic attacks worse.
- Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle stretches.
- Even though it may be difficult, try to open up about your feelings and talk to friends and loved ones. You may be surprised at how understanding people can be.
While panic attacks are very unlikely to cause you any physical harm, there are some instances where you should see a doctor. If a panic attack continues for more than 20 minutes despite you practising relaxing breathing exercises, you should seek medical advice. You should also see your doctor if after a panic attack you still feel unwell, or still have a rapid or irregular heartbeat. If you regularly have panic attacks, this could be a sign that you have panic disorder, so discuss this with your GP.
If you suffer with anxiety and the subsequent panic attacks that can occur as a result, you may find help by reading some of our earlier articles on the subject.
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