Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

What is a Panic Attack and how can you help?

 1. A typical panic attack.

You’re standing in a queue to buy a sandwich. Suddenly, without any warning, you feel dizzy and you’re convinced you’re going to faint and fall over. Your heart races or misses a beat or two, you sweat and you feel sick – worst of all, you’re terrified, not only of the symptoms which have come without warning, but of making a fool of yourself in public. But you don’t faint or vomit. You creep away and find somewhere safe to sit down and after 15 minutes or so the symptoms pass. You feel pretty sure you won’t have to dial 999. But you’re already wondering if it’s going to happen again…

2. What do they mean?

These attacks are frightening but not life-threatening. They are caused by an inappropriate response to prolonged stress. Very simply, your body is giving you a message – check out your anxiety and stress levels and lifestyle and do something about them. If you don’t there could be more attacks like that one, or serious illness if the cause of the attacks isn’t addressed.

3. Why do they happen?

Adrenaline - the short-term “stress hormone” produced by the adrenal glands as a response to a real or imagined threat - is a wonderful thing. It motivates and energises us and helps us through dangerous situations. When we’re threatened or need to react quickly, in a split second our breathing becomes faster to get more oxygen into the system, muscles tense, ready to run or fight, and the heart pumps harder to get the blood to where it’s needed most. The danger – the stimulus – passes and things return to normal.

4. Why me?

However, people who are anxious or those who have been through stressful events, people who push themselves to their limits all the time without “down-time” - all tend to have consistently high levels of adrenaline in their systems. This means that the changes described above (heart, breathing, muscles etc) are prolonged unnecessarily. Then the unpleasant symptoms start – racing heart, palpitations, hyperventilation, tense and painful muscles sweating, pins and needles, nausea, disturbed sleep and so on. Panic attacks combine a number of these symptoms and create the fear of repeat attacks, which is itself a trigger to create more attacks.

5. What can I do about it?

The first thing to do is go and see your doctor, just to check the symptoms aren’t anything more than a panic attack. If all is well, which it nearly always is, he will tell you that it isn’t serious. That reassurance on its own very often stops further attacks.

Once you know what’s caused the symptoms, you can start doing something about them. People who suddenly suffer a panic attack for the first time may not even be aware they are suffering from a high level of stress, so – recognising that you need to do something is the first step. Self-awareness is a really important part of coping with symptoms of stress and anxiety and you will need to look at all aspects of your life and ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Why am I getting tense when I don’t need to?
  • What exactly are the triggers to my tension?
  • Is there anything going on in my life which is making me tense, even if I’m not aware of it?
  • Do I get enough sleep and exercise?
  • Do I eat good food regularly?
  • Do I balance my work and social life properly?

As well as challenging your priorities and lifestyle, you will need to learn how to identify and relax your tense muscles and improve your breathing. Learning how to do this isn’t just a matter of sitting down and doing nothing. It takes commitment and practice.

How can Relaxation for Living & More help you?

Our Relaxation and Stress Management short courses with simple, practical self-help techniques can help you to cope with panic attacks and lessen their severity.

Contact us via our Contacts page to see if there is an RFLI  licensed teacher near you to attend one of their courses.

Alternatively you could try our DVD or CD products which include tension easing exercises and relaxation techniques to help.