Emily stops short as fear washes over her. There are just too many people near her. Her heart begins to race, and beads of sweat form on her forehead. She looks around desperately for a place to hide. Passing strangers look at her with worried expressions, but continue to walk past her. She feels as if she might vomit at any moment as a constricted feeling forms in her chest.
Emily stumbles towards the nearest doorway as she fights the urge to cry and scream. She feels short of breath, and is suddenly sure she’s about to die. She finally finds a secluded corner and slumps against the wall. Her breathing becomes so labored she thinks she is choking.
While this may play out like a scene from a movie, it’s very much a reality for people with anxiety. Emily is having a panic attack. An estimated three million people in the United States will suffer from some sort of panic disorder in their lives, and up to 75% of these people will suffer a panic attack at least once.
One very common cause of panic attacks is catastrophic thought processes. This means your mind will great exaggerate the situation and bring about fears that are unfounded.
An example might be a fear of elevators. A person with panic disorder may have a fear of an elevator falling and killing them. When they step onto, or are faced with, an elevator, these thoughts begin to overwhelm their mind. They may very well know these are unfounded thoughts, but they can’t help thinking them anyway. These thoughts trigger the attack.
A tendency to develop panic disorders may be hereditary. If you have parents or relatives with disorders, you are more likely to develop one of your own at some point in your life. The medical condition ‘hypoglycemia’ may also trigger attacks.
If you are having a panic attack, you know it. It’s something that will completely stop you in your tracks and takes over your entire thought process. Some of the most common symptoms are as follows: pounding heartbeat or accelerated heart rate, shaking, sweating, fear of death or serious harm, overwhelming urge to flee, labored breathing or choking sensation, numbness, nausea, and chills or hot flashes. You may also experience a loss of reality, a feeling of going crazy, and tightening in your chest.
If you have experienced a panic attack before, you know what is going on. If you haven’t, these symptoms can be confused with other medical problems. Some may think they are having a heart attack if they are not aware of how bad their panic or anxiety may be. It is very important to visit your doctor for a true diagnosis, or to find out if something else may be wrong.
If you have panic attacks, you will probably be diagnosed as having a panic disorder. Keep in mind that panic attacks are a symptom of this, but so are anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks are like panic attacks, but are less severe.
Only your doctor can decide what is the best treatment for you. Developing a phobia often goes hand in hand with a panic disorder. Because phobias are so far ranging, it’s impossible to cover them all here.
If you want help with controlling your panic as it happens, you will need to control each sensation as it comes. This may be hard to do in the midst of an attack, but with some practice you may be able to regain control.
Begin by telling yourself you are having an attack. Remind yourself that your panic is not unwarranted; it is just being over exaggerated in your mind. Try to control each of the symptoms as they appear. If you are having shortness of breath, make a concentrated effort to breath slowly and deeply. Try to stay in the moment and note each symptom as it occurs, this logical thinking my help to stop or shorten the attack.
Take a mental note of the situation that triggered the attack, along with each symptom you are experiencing. Once your attack passes, write everything down in detail so you can share your notes with your doctor. This will help your doctor to better treat your condition.
Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional to help with your phobia. There are also anti-depressants that may be prescribed to you.
While panic attacks seem horrific while you are experiencing them, they are treatable. Remember that you are not crazy. Your doctor is, and always will be, your best source for information. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with a qualified doctor because help is readily available. If for any reason you aren’t satisfied with your treatment, seek a second, or third, opinion.