Coping with panic attacks Matters of the mind

2016-09-28 06:00

PANIC attacks are a relatively common, yet often misunderstood, phenomenon. If you have experienced a panic attack, you will know it is a very disturbing and often terrifying experience.

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is a short period of intense fear. This feeling can come out of the blue and doesn’t have to be caused by any particular danger. This intense fear plays out in several bodily symptoms: a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a chocking feeling, dizziness, nausea, chills or hot flushes. Because of this intense fear and the accompanying physical symptoms, a person may worry that he or she is losing control of themselves, going crazy or even dying.

What should I do if I experience panic attacks?

Firstly, it is worth going for a medical check up to rule out any undiagnosed thyroid or cardiac problems which may present with similar symptoms to a panic attack. Secondly, avoid caffeine. Caffeine speeds up your heart rate and can actually induce panic attacks in people prone to panic symptoms. Thirdly, consult with a mental health professional. A psychologist can equip you with coping skills in order to manage the panic symptoms.

What can I do in a moment of panic?

• Ride it out. Rather than trying to fix or fight the panic attack in that moment, almost imagine that the panic symptoms are like waves that you have to ride out – just experience the symptoms without trying to change them. Trying to run away from the symptoms often only makes them worse. Tell yourself that it will pass.

• Breathe deeply and slowly. When you are experiencing panic symptoms, you are probably taking short and shallow breaths from your chest. In order to stop this, put a hand on your abdomen, and try to breathe in and out deeply through your nose, making your tummy move in and out, and not your chest.

• In a panic attack, the fear centre in your brain has hijacked the rational, thinking part of your brain. You can counteract this by engaging your thinking, through doing something like a crossword puzzle, Sudoku or counting backwards in sevens from 100.

• Panic attacks seldom occur twice in the same place, so don’t start avoiding the places where you experienced the attack. Anxiety always wants you to narrow your life. Rather, try to face your feared places. A faced fear is a defeated fear.

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