Panic attacks usually don’t come with a warning. It slowly sneaks itself up on you and then you get lost in it. So many things are happening to you at the same time, you lose focus and it becomes overwhelming within seconds. According to James Gross, a panic attack is defined as a sudden episode of terrifying bodily symptoms such as labored breathing, choking, dizziness, tingling hands and feet, sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, and chest pain.
The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch vividly illustrates the overwhelming anxiety associated with panic attacks. Munch himself is thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder.
Anna’s experience with panic attack.
Anna encountered her first panic attack during her A ‘level’s first examination. She is a studious girl who had prepared well in hopes of achieving a position among the top ten. The night before the exam she found it difficult to sleep. The stress of the examination kept her twisting and turning in her bed sleepless. The next morning as she sat down to do her exam, she found it hard to breath. She could not see properly and she felt like her head was spinning. Her heart was racing at the same time she was sweating. She held on to her desk for dear life. She was unaware of what was going on around her. Finally when the episode passed she was left shaken and exhausted.
She had her next episode after two weeks and since then she has been in fear of getting a panic attack. She has been avoiding her friends and refusing to go out since the attacks have become frequent. She did not want to leave the house since she did not want to have an attack in public. She has slowly isolated herself due to the fear of the panic attacks that crawls up on her.
Panic attacks are frightening in itself, it is also fear-provoking, even the mere thought of having a panic attack can be appalling. As a result of this, people who suffer from panic attacks are more prone to develop agoraphobia. They fear having an attack especially in public places where it could be embarrassing or having an attack while doing something completely normal like driving a car. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which help may not be available or it could become embarrassing for the person.
Here are some tips that can help a person through a panic attack
- Simple breathing exercise – take a deep breath and hold. The breath should be deep and reach your lungs. Count to ten and slowly breathe out. Do this until you feel your breathing is under control.
- Take a walk outside – if you find yourself having a panic attack inside a room full of people, stepping outside and taking a breath of fresh air would help. Slow walking with focused breathing will give some ease.
- Stay present in the ‘here and now’- Focus on what you were doing while you were having the panic attack. Focus on the sensations; the fabric of your clothing, the heaviness of your shoes etc. Return to your rational mind and allow yourself to think clearly.
- Expose yourself to panic symptoms- After experiencing a panic attack, some people develop a fear of panic attack themselves. Mimic the symptoms you experience while you have a panic attack and do them in your own control. Realize that you are in no danger and that no harm will come to you.
Your panic attacks can be stopped in their tracks; in fact, they want to be. Your body doesn’t want to waste needless energy. Use these techniques and get help, before long, you’ll have your first experience of stopping a panic attack before it even gets started. And that will be a very, very nice feeling indeed.