Psychology Today reports that a recorded six million adults in the U.S. have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Taking into consideration just how common anxiety is among Americans, knowing what to do when experiencing a panic attack can be the key to helping yourself or someone else in a potentially dangerous situation.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
The underlying cause of a panic attack could be a number of things.
Anxiety attacks can be caused by mood disorders like anxiety and depression, extreme stress, abuse of substances (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine), physical health problems, or even as a side-effect of medication.
Even if you don’t have an extensive background in psychology, you’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, your brain’s reaction to danger. This response is similar to what happens in the brain during a panic attack.
According to Scientific American, “When people feel stressed, their sympathetic nervous system typically revs up, releasing energy and preparing the body for action. Then the parasympathetic nervous system steps in, and the body stabilizes to a calmer state. If the parasympathetic nervous system is somehow unable to do its job, a person will remain fired up and may experience the heightened arousal characteristic of a panic attack.”
Essentially, during a panic attack your body is having a heightened response to a perceived threat, resulting in some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack.
Identifying a Panic Attack
To differentiate a panic attack from another health problem, be on the lookout for the following symptoms.
Panic attacks can manifest in different ways for different people, but according to Psychology Today, many of the common symptoms include “fast breathing, severe perspiration, trembling, nausea, dizziness, numbness or tingling, chills or sensations of heat, and increased heart rate . . . extreme fear . . . feelings of disconnection from oneself, loss of control, imminent danger, and a strong desire to flee or avoid the situation.”
It is important to note that some of these symptoms do mirror other health issues like heart attacks or respiratory conditions, so personal medical history should always be taken into consideration when determining whether or not you are experiencing a panic attack.
What to Do
Above and beyond all else, if you are experiencing a panic attack, anxiety, or other problems related to your mental health, seeking help from a counselor or other medical professional is paramount to learning how to manage your symptoms and beginning a journey toward better health.
In the meantime, there are some actions that professionals suggest you take immediately if you are experiencing a panic attack.
One of the first steps you can take to help alleviate panic is to simply recognize that you are experiencing an anxiety attack.
Some professionals suggest that by reminding yourself that this is a panic attack rather than a heart attack or death, your mind is calmed and able to understand that the episode will be over soon.
Grounding yourself is another helpful method to quelling panic. Many anxiety sufferers feel a lack of connection with the physical world during episodes of panic because they are caught up in mental distress. Engaging the physical body can help you feel more grounded and in control of yourself during these episodes. Psychology Today suggests a number of physical practices to help anxiety sufferers reconnect with the physical world. Focused breathing techniques, visually fixating on a stable object, or even holding an ice cube can help to bring your mind back into the physical world and alleviate a panic attack in the moment.
If you’ve experienced what you believe is a panic attack, these methods can be helpful for mitigating the situation as it arises and finding calm. Even so, consulting a licensed professional is necessary to taking steps toward diagnosis of any sort of mood disorder.
By visiting a therapist or counselor, you can discuss your specific anxiety symptoms and they can help tailor your treatment methods to your specific needs.
For more information, or to talk with a HopeCoach about your next steps, check out TheHopeLine’s resources to begin the journey toward wellness and hope.
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Photo Credit: Maia Habegger.