Panic attacks | 4 min read

Everything you need to know about panic attacks

Your heart is racing. The world is spinning. You feel like you might throw up. It’s a normal day, nothing has happened. Yet you feel terrible. You can’t think straight — or you’re thinking too much. You might feel like you’re going crazy. You consider calling an ambulance.

Now, what’s really happening? The gist of it is that your brain goes into fight or flight mode. It perceives danger, even if we don’t consciously feel any. When someone is under a lot of stress, the brain’s fight or flight trigger becomes easier to trip.

Panic attacks happen when our fight or flight mode has a false alarm. We begin to associate our psychological and biological reactions (certain thought patterns, or body behaviours like heart rate) with whatever is happening at the time. So, for example, someone might begin to feel panicky when they exercise because exercising raises the heart rate — just like a panic attack does.

The good news is that we can unlearn these cues that cause panic attacks. Our brains pick up on so many cues that we don’t even realize. By figuring out what those cues are, we can begin to determine what is triggering the panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack:
Feeling frightened, scared
Racing heart
Chest pain
Dizziness, feeling light-headed
Nausea
Difficulty breathing
Tingling and numbness in fingers, face and toes
Hot flushes, cold sweats
Feeling disoriented
Fear of losing control, going ‘crazy’, or doing something embarrassing
Fear of dying

Here are some tips to help you through a panic attack

Know that it will end

The average panic attack lasts around 10 minutes. You will hit a peak of panic, and from there it will reside. While it is hard to believe this in the moment, it will end.

Many people find it helpful to pick a mantra for themselves. Some common ones are “this will end,” “I am safe,” or “I will be okay.” If you’re with a friend when you feel a panic attack coming on, ask them to comfort you with these phrases. It can mean more coming from someone else.

 Use deep breathing techniques

This sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Well, you might be surprised that it works better than you’d expect. Many people hyperventilate when they panic, which then can cause feelings of choking, dying, and dizziness. By controlling the breath, you can control your symptoms. Be sure that you’re breathing from your diaphragm/belly.

Push through

When you’re having a panic attack, all you want to do is have it stop. So, you push back against it. Oftentimes, this only makes it worse. Instead of pushing against it, push through. This takes a lot of practice and can sound scary, but many people have had success with it. Logically, a panic attack is harmless. Even though it feels scary, it cannot harm you.

Move your body

The last thing you want to do when you’re having a panic attack is move. However, moving your body can release excess energy, distract you, and help signal to your body that you’re not in danger. You can really do anything: go on a walk, dance, shake your arms, or pat your limbs. This includes your vocal cords, too. Making noise can help expel extra energy you may have.

Coping with panic attacks:

Remember that although your feelings and symptoms are very frightening, they are not dangerous or harmful.

Understand that what you are feeling is only a very strong feeling of your body’s normal reaction to stress.

Don’t fight your feelings or try to wish them away, the more you are willing to deal with them the less frightening they will become.

Concentrate on the present, where are you and who is with you. Remember that you are fine. Don’t worry about what might happen to you.

Not everyone feels the need to see a therapist, but many people find it helpful no matter how big or small your problems seem. Read about the condition and get help if needed.

Sources:   Haleigh Missildine

http://www.sadag.org/

Helplines

Cipla 24hr Mental Health Helpline
0800 456 789

Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline
0800 70 80 90

SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837

Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit 24 Hour
0861 435 787

Cipla Whatsapp Chat Line
076 882 2775

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