We’ve all heard of panic attacks and with it being estimated that 35% will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives they are quite common. However, they are something that isn’t talked about, and many people brush them off as a once-off occurrence, but for many people, they can be debilitating and something you subconsciously spend your life around avoiding.
Anyone can experience a panic attack, regardless of whether you have a history of mental illness or not. Panic attacks can seemingly come out of nowhere, they tend to peak after 10 minutes and then eventually subside (though you can get them back-to-back which means it feel like they last much longer). Leaving you feeling stressed, worried, or just off for the rest of the day.
Symptoms of panic attacks include:
- A racing or pounding heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Hot flashes or chills
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach pain
- The feeling of being choked or smothered
It’s worth noting that for many people when they first experience a panic attack, they feel like they are dying and are experiencing a heart attack as the symptoms appear similar. However, with panic attacks, they will eventually subside, and the symptoms will lessen.
It is not known what triggers panic attacks with it being a mix of factors from ongoing stress to medications to sudden changes. You can also experience expected panic attacks these are panic attacks that are triggered by external stressors like phobias. If you experience expected panic attacks you may have panic attack disorder which will require ongoing treatment such as medication and therapy.
If you find yourself experiencing a panic attack a few things that can help include the following:
- When you are experiencing one remind yourself that you are not dying, tell yourself you are experiencing a panic attack and it’s ok.
- Practice breathing exercises when you feel a panic attack coming on. Getting your breathing under control helps to reduce the spaced-out feelings you may be experiencing. Slowly breathe in through your nose, hold your breath for the count of the three and exhale through your mouth.
- Grounding exercises are another way to distract yourself. For example, try this exercise: Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
A one-off panic attack isn’t a sign of concern but if they repeatedly happen and you are noticing a pattern then it might be a good idea to see a medical professional. While panic attacks are scary when they are happening know that they will pass and remember to take it easy on yourself, after all, we’re only human.
Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below at any time.
Better Health Channel (2012). Panic attack. [online] Vic.gov.au. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/panic-attack.
Kubala, K. (2017). What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack? [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/panic-attack-vs-anxiety-attack#symptoms.
Legg, T.J. (2021). Panic attack vs. anxiety attack: What is the difference? [online] www.medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321798#signs-and-symptoms.
Mayo Clinic (2018). Panic attacks and panic disorder - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. [online] Mayoclinic.org. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376027.