Stop, Panic Attack!
By Susan Willis
Panic attacks can strike at any time or any place. For people who are prone to them, they can rule their lives. For those who have had more than one panic attack, the fear that another will occur can be debilitating. Here is an FAQ on stopping panic attacks.
FAQ #1: What does a panic attack feel like?
A: During a panic or anxiety attack you can feel a range of feelings, both mental and physical. You may feel that the world is closing in on you. You might feel dizzy. Your heartbeat will likely be much, much faster than usual. You might feel a tingling in your chest. You may sweat. You may want to lie down and at the same time lose your ability to concentrate. Also, an acute fear of dying accompanies the panic attack for some people. Caution: If you do have a panic attack, be sure to remove yourself from a situation whereby you might be of a danger to others (such as driving a car).
FAQ #2: What causes panic attacks?
A: Physiologically, panic attacks usually involve an excess of adrenaline suddenly entering into your system, in combination with a number of other related factors going on in your body. The precise cause of panic attacks is still under study, but the cause does seem to vary from person to person. Some panic attacks seem to come on unexpectedly. Other may be triggered by a traumatic event, such as a car accident. Still others might be situation-specific, whereby the attack is triggered after a certain pattern of circumstances arises for the individual.
FAQ #3: Are panic attacks common?
A: Yes. The Merck Manual indicates that about one-third of adults experience a panic attack each year. Some people, however, have these attacks more frequently and can experience them many times in a given year or month.
FAQ #4: Should I avoid situations that cause them?
A: The common wisdom seems to be that eventually you should try to face situations that tend to trigger your panic attacks so that you can overcome them as triggers for the attack. However, this should be done with caution since you do not want to unnecessarily put yourself through a panic attack. Ask your doctor about this.
FAQ #5: How can I stop one?
A: Stopping a panic attack is not easy. In fact, they can seem to feed on themselves, whereby the more you try to control one the more it takes control. Panic attacks are difficult to stop sometimes because the attack itself causes a series of negative mental states in the person having the attack. Those negative mental states in turn keep the body (e.g., the adrenal glands, sweat glands, heart, breathing, etc.) in an agitated state. This vicious cycle can often be broke by relaxing, doing breathing exercises, and creating positive thought patterns to counter the negative mental activity that the attack can create.
Panic attacks can be one of the scariest experiences but do not always seem to have an obvious cause. This mysterious quality can actually make them even more feared, thereby making them harder to overcome when they do occur. Be sure to take control and do not let your panic attacks run your life. There are ways to overcome them.
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