Written by: Jenny Smith
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are the name given to the sudden experience of intense physical and psychological symptoms that can lead to a perceived threat which is either real or imagined. Symptoms can include heart palpiations where your heart feels like it is beating irregularly, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, chest pains and feeling sick. Psychologically you may feel that you are in serious danger and experience overwhelming fear and a sense of unreality about the world about you.
Physical signs of a panic attack
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into flight or fight mode in response to the perceived threat. As you try to take more oxygen in your breathing will quicken and hormones will be released that cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tighten up. At its most extreme, a panic attack can make you feel like you are about to die, but usually once the symptoms pass there is no damage or danger. However if they persist or do not respond to calming techniques it is helpful to seek medical advice from your GP or NHS direct http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/
What to do when a panic attack begins
If you feel an attack coming on try and do the following:
- Take yourself to a place where you can sit down quietly
- Put anything down that you are carrying
- Loosen anything tight around your neck.
- Slow your breathing down
- Try breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing out for longer through your mouth whilst focusing on the word calm. This will help reduce the level of carbon dioxide in your blood return to normal which may leave you feeling tired afterwards.
- If your attack continues after you’ve been breathing in this way for over 20 mins, or you still feel unwell after your breathing has returned to normal it is a good idea to check in with medical services.
If you experience panic attacks very often you may be one of the one in a hundred people in the Uk who has a panic disorder. These are conditions that sometimes need more intervention to reduce the level of panic attacks and can be helped by talking therapy and /or medication.
Putting steps in place
It is natural for everyone to experience a certain level of anxiety and feel panicked by some situations or life changes. However if you feel these feelings quite regularly it may be helpful to put some things into place in your daily life that support you to relax more and reduce your levels of tension. Physical exercise is a great way to burn off excess stress and get fit at the same time which increases the numbers of feel good hormones floating around your body.
Taking up a relaxation practice like meditation or tai chi is another positive step that you can take as self-help to combat panic. Finally tuning into your diet and becoming aware of how particular foods and drinks affect you is also a useful exercise, substances such as caffeine are renowned for increasing heart rate and firing up our nervous systems which can result in feelings of jitteriness and unease.