Understanding Panic Attacks
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a sudden attack of exaggerated anxiety and fear. Often, attacks happen without warning and without any apparent reason. Some people may experience just one episode of panic attack, while others can have recurring episodes. Recurring episodes usually happen after a person is exposed to various events or situations that may "trigger" panic. While it is generally harmless, panic attacks can severely disable a person physically, emotionally and psychologically. In extreme cases, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder.
Who gets panic attacks?
The condition affects many people. It is believed that 10% of the total population is suffering from panic attacks, yet many are still undiagnosed or under-diagnosed. They tend to occur more on young adults. Female are twice as prone to have an attack as male. It is also said that the condition is genetically inherited so panic attacks may run in the family.
How do I know if I am having an attack?
A panic attack can be identified with different signs and symptoms. They include increased heartbeat or palpitation, chest pain, hyperventilation or shortness of breath, stomach churning, upset stomach, trembling and shaking, muscle tension, sweating, dizziness and light-headedness, hot or cold flashes, tingling sensation or numbness, fear of dying, going crazy or losing control and feeling detached from the surroundings.
The signs and symptoms of panic attacks are similar to a heart attack. The former is not dangerous, the latter can be deadly. It is best therefore to seek for emergency medical help, especially if the patient experiences it for the first time.
What cause an attack?
Many panic attacks happen without any apparent reason; they just come out of the blue. However, attacks may be caused by past traumatic experiences such as death of a loved one, family conflicts, bad relationships, divorce of parents, car accident, public humiliation, etc. An attack may occur when a person is exposed to various events or situations almost similar to the past that may "trigger" panic.
Stress is closely linked to panic attacks. Triggers include stressful life event as well as stressful working and living environment. Genetics is also believed to cause an attack.
What should I do during an attack?
Panic attacks peak from 5 to 10 minutes; it rarely lasts for more than half an hour. But during this time, you can experience discomfort such as those signs and symptoms mentioned above. Since the increased in heart rate is the main reason for experiencing other symptoms, it is important to take control of your breathing during an attack. Breathe slowly and deeply as you can. Breathe in slowly for 3 counts then hold your breath for the next 3 slow counts. Then, exhale for 3 slow counts.
Do this until you are calm. If you are able to stand, get up slowly and walk around. It is also helpful to breathe into a plastic or a paper bag. This allows you to re-breathe your carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide helps correct the blood acid level that had been disturbed by excessive breathing.
While practicing deep breathing, try to focus your attention away from the cause of panic. Replace your anxious thoughts with happy ones. If available, do something that will occupy your mind such as solving puzzles and playing word games.
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