As someone living with Unresolved Childhood Trauma & Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I’ve suffered with panic attacks since I was a child and they have gradually become worse as I’ve gotten older. I can suffer with a panic attack numerous times in a day, once a day or go without having a panic attack for days before I have one.
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are your bodies response to a perceived threat – they are a fear response that is exaggerated from your normal response to danger or stress. Our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to make us more alert and to speed up our heart rates so blood flows faster. They are experienced mentally in our thoughts and physically in our feelings and sensations. People who suffer from panic attacks, often as a symptom of anxiety, don’t generally have any control over when they happen and the onset of a panic attack can happen within seconds.
Panic attacks can happen at any time of the day and some people may only experience one panic attack while other people may experience regular or several panic attacks. For some people, they can be triggered by particular places, situations or activities that cause stress and sometimes a person may not know what their triggers are.
Most panic attacks last between 5–20 minutes. They can come on very quickly. Your symptoms will usually peak (be at their worst) within 10 minutes. You might also experience symptoms of a panic attack over a longer period of time. This could be because you’re having a second panic attack, or you’re experiencing other symptoms of anxiety. – Mind
What does a panic attack feel like?
A lot of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical or sensations such as:
- A racing/pounding heart or heart palpitations
- Feeling faint, dizzy, light-headed or like you are going to pass out
- Feeling very hot or very cold
- Sweating, trembling or shaking
- Pain in your chest or abdomen
- Struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking or as if your airways are closing up
- Feeling a disconnect from your body, mind or surroundings
During a panic attack, the symptoms can cause you to panic more as you may feel like you have no control, are going to faint, are going to die, are having a heart attack or a stroke.
You may feel like you need to call an ambulance, make sudden movements or make loud noises.
For example: when I found out my mum had passed away, I instantly jumped up, doubled over, thought I was going to have a heart attack and got light headed. After this, I experienced feeling very cold and disassociation/disconnect before eventually ending up in tears once the panic attack passed. This was a reaction to an extremely stressful – and fearful – situation.
How can I manage a panic attack?
Panic attacks are scary because you are in a fear response mode and the symptoms can be unexpected and even scarier than the trigger, but there are some ways you can try to manage a panic attack:
- Focus on your breathing – you can do this mentally or try a guided breathing meditation specifically for panic and anxiety. By concentrating on, and controlling your breathing, you may be able to slow down your breathing and in turn, your heart rate.
- Try not to be scared of your panic attack – this is something I still haven’t been able to achieve yet but if you can, it will make it much easier to go with the flow of the panic attack as all panic attacks have a peak; all panic attacks will end; and panic attacks are not a sign of something harmful happening to you, even though it might feel like it.
- Ride your panic attack – if you can stay in your panic attack and ride it all the way to the end, you will be able to see that nothing bad has happened and that it ended and you got through it. This will make it easier to manage future panic attacks.
- Stamp on the spot – some people find this helps control their breathing.
- Try grounding techniques – NAME out loud 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel (touch them), 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Breathe deeply throughout this technique. This can be particularly helpful if you experience disassociation during panic attacks.
- Listen to a guided meditation – this is a distraction technique and can help to control your breathing, become aware of your body and to calm you down as you focus on the voice rather than the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Can you prevent panic attacks?
I don’t know if you can entirely eliminate panic attacks as I’m not at that point yet. What I do know is that there are things you can do to try and limit how many panic attacks you have.
- Recognise your triggers – this may not be possible all the time but if you can recognise things that stress you out and trigger panic attacks, you can learn how to better manage those situations or your response to those situations.
- Doing meditation or breathing exercises daily can help to prevent panic attacks and to manage them when they are happening.
- Regular Exercise can help to increase serotonin, release tension, manage stress, and improve your mood which can help to prevent panic attacks.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking.
- Consider if you want to try therapy such as CBT to begin to identify and change the negative thought patterns that contribute to your panic attacks.
After a panic attack
You may feel drained, emotional, disorientated, hungry or dehydrated. Each person is different in how a panic attack leaves them feeling.
Listen to what your body needs:
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Eat or drink something
- Do something relaxing like have a warm bubble bath
- Talk to somebody you trust and feel safe with
- Do yoga
Have you ever experienced a panic attack? How did you manage it and how did you feel after? Do you have any tips that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments or drop me a DM on Insta