Panic attacks – symptoms, triggers and how to deal with it

Panic attacks – symptoms, triggers and how to deal with it

What exactly is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are periods of overwhelming fear or anxiety. They are brief but can be terrifying and include several physical symptoms. These symptoms are not dangerous but can make people feel like they have a heart attack, can’t breathe, or are dying.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack or how to recognize a Panic Attack

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sweating
  • Pounding heart
  • Nausea (the feeling when we are sick in the stomach and when we have the urge to vomit. But not always accompanied by vomiting.)
  • Fear of dying
  • Chest pain
  • A feeling of being detached from reality
  • Fear of “going crazy”

Most panic attacks last somewhere between 10 to 30 minutes.

Most Common Triggers for Panic Attacks

In most cases, a panic attack occurs for no apparent reason, and it can be difficult to manage the symptoms. That is why it is important to be able to recognize the triggers of a panic attack.

  • Stress

Some stress always accompanies life. Globally, people have faced Covid-19 and its consequences in the last two years – from health to finance. After Covid-19, the war in Ukraine began, which is still going on and which leaves deep emotional, mental, and economic consequences.

  • Reminders of traumatic experiences

When something or someone reminds us of a traumatic experience, we are more likely to experience a panic attack. In the case of war trauma, it can be the sound of a siren that signifies danger. Or as a test of sirens in countries where refugees have fled.

  • Significant personal loss

The loss of a loved one in the war, the uncertainty of whether other family members are alive, financial uncertainty due to losing a job, and moving to another country, can all be predictors of panic attacks.

Practical strategies for overcoming panic attacks

When you find yourself in a situation where you are experiencing a panic attack, instead of intimidating yourself with scary thoughts, say something to yourself that will encourage you, such as these sentences:

  • What I am feeling at this moment is just fear. Fear is unpleasant but not dangerous. I will wait for it to pass.
  • These unpleasant sensations that I am feeling are harmless and just unpleasant. I can handle them.
  • I don’t have to run anywhere. This is just the fear I have experienced many times before, and I know it will pass me by. I can endure it.
  • The fact that I am afraid is not a sign of madness or some physical illness. It is just fear. I will wait for it to pass.
  • I don’t have to control myself, the fear will pass, and it is impossible to lose control over myself.
  • It’s not a shame to be afraid. Other people won’t even notice how I feel. Even if someone sees that I am scared, it does not mean that I am a troubled person.

How to behave in a panic attack situation?

Stay in the situation, and do not run away from that circumstance.

Why? Because it is not the situation that causes a panic attack (elevator, shopping center, bus, train) but the specific thoughts you have in that situation. The problem is that you imagine what could happen to you. Running away or avoiding certain situations can only increase fear and maintain it. As such, the next time you find yourself in the same or a similar situation, you will likely experience a panic attack again.

When the fear stops, stay in the situation for a while longer to gain experience of staying in such situations without fear.

People use specific strategies to avoid situations in which they have experienced a panic attack.

It can be: closing the window during the test siren, riding the bus, getting off the train, going to the mall, avoiding military parades, going to a closed room to avoid the sound of airplanes etc.

Find out what your avoidance behaviors are and try to deal with them so you can help yourself.

Every time we avoid a situation (except in the case of war) in which we feel scared, we intimidate ourselves and increase our levels of fear. We spin a vicious circle from which we see no way out.

Be persistent and patient in implementing these strategies.

It’s easier said than done, but don’t give up, because you can do it! Many have done so and succeeded. Face your fear, and every time you succeed, the fear will get weaker and weaker. So, try because you have nothing to lose but fear! If you give up and leave one of the situations you are afraid of again, do not despair and stay brave. Try again next time.

How can we help a person who is having a Panic Attack?

First, you have to stay calm.

The best question you can ask a person experiencing a panic attack is: What can I do for you?

The answer can be different, from don’t leave me, to I want to be alone. If a person wants to be left alone, assess whether they could harm themselves.

If the person wants you to stay with them, you can do the following:

Offer a glass of water.

Offer to take them out for some fresh air.

Touch or hug the person if they do not mind.

What you should NOT do is tell the person: you must control yourself. Try to speak in a calming tone and not panic.

You can breathe together with abdominal breathing techniques, which will be described in the next paragraph.

Abdominal breathing technique

Abdominal breathing is not a common style of breathing for most people. Therefore, it is necessary to practice this breathing style so we can use it in situations where we need it.

The following steps should be taken:

  1. Find a quiet room to do these exercises.
  2. You can sit on a chair but also in a lying position if you have difficulty exercising.
  3. Get into a comfortable position, relax your shoulders and chest, and do not cross your legs.
  4. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach so you can follow the breathing process.
  5. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your lungs fill with air as your stomach slowly rise. Count to 4 as you inhale.
  6. Then, hold your breath. Continue counting to 6 and open your mouth. Feel your stomach retract as you slowly exhale on 7.
  7. Continue for another ten minutes breathing this way. Try to keep it consistent.

It is recommended that this breathing technique is practiced daily. So, we can easily use it in situations of increased anxiety and panic attacks.

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