Panic attacks are quite common, and most people will experience at least one in the course of their lives. They are formally defined as consisting of the sudden onset of extremely intense feelings of fear or discomfort that grow quickly, and reach a peak within just a few minutes. The symptoms they involve include palpitations, an intensely accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, and a feeling of being short of breath or being smothered.
Understandably, panic attacks can be scary, and starting to panic can create a vicious circle, as the person affected worries that they will display embarrassing or upsetting physical symptoms that they can’t control. Ultimately, the fear of panicking can be a source of panic in and of itself. Over time, the person’s quality of life can be severely reduced, as they start to avoid any circumstance that they worry might lead to problems. Sufferers who are also parents are often understandably concerned that their panic attacks might have a negative impact on their children, or even lead to them becoming inclined to develop similar extreme reactions to negative stimuli.
Panic attacks can be sparked by all sorts of fears, from a fear of spiders, to anxiety about going out in public after an upsetting or traumatic experience. The problem is that, in dealing with panic, most of us default to focussing on the external stimulus of our panic, which often just makes things worse, and is not the main problem that we are grappling with. If panic attacks become a regular feature of our lives, we can develop chronic levels of stress, which can even start to impact seriously on our physical health.
How to overcome a panic attack
The good news is that panic attacks are very manageable, with the right sort of understanding and support, and that anyone can gain the upper hand. The key lies in focusing on the physical symptoms and problems, and not on the external stimulus, and in understanding that the source of the fear is inside ourselves, and that only we can ultimately gain control over it.
By focusing on slowing our breathing down, for example, we help our body to leave flight or fight mode, and also give ourselves a sense of being in control of the situation, which is empowering in and of itself, and can help us to re-establish a sense of calm. By allowing ourselves to take small, steady steps away from the source of our panic, we are teaching ourselves how to deal with the situation rationally, and how to seize control of our own lives, and our own emotional responses to the things that happen in them.
Moreover, as we practice simple techniques in dealing with the issue, we get incrementally better at it, and as we do, our confidence grows until we no longer worry about losing control in public—because we know that even if we encounter something that we find very upsetting, we have the means and the capacity to take charge of the situation on our own.
Who can I speak to further about managing panic attacks?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.