I first want to start by saying that you are not going crazy! You are not making all these symptoms up! And you are not alone! Mental health, including anxiety, are so often misunderstood and seen as ‘exaggerating or overreacting’. I want you to know that panic attacks are a real physiological thing that happens to some people. I also want to encourage you to talk to someone – talk to your doctor or a counsellor if you need further support for your panic attacks.
What are panic attacks?
A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, which includes at least 4 of the following symptoms:
- racing or pounding heart
- shaking or trembling
- shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
- feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- chills or hot flashes
- nausea or upset stomach
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- a sense of things being unreal or feeling detached from oneself
- numbness or tingling sensations
- fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- fear of dying
Panic attacks tend to start quickly and reach a peak within 10 minutes. The peak generally lasts for about 5 to 10 minutes before the symptoms start to settle. However, it can take quite some time for all the symptoms to subside. (Anxiety Canada)
Common Myths About Panic Attacks
- Panic attacks will cause physical harm – Panic attacks are not harmful, even though they might feel scary
- Panic attacks last forever! – A panic attack will end! They generally last between 2 -10 minutes at most, and it will pass.
- I am in danger – A panic attack occurs when your stress response system is triggered. This is generally a helpful reaction, however sometimes we have a false alarms. It’s kind of like when your smoke alarm goes off because you burnt toast.
- Panic attacks are really a heart attack in disguise: You are not having a heart attack. The chest pain you experience during a panic attack is the result of muscle tension (which is part of your stress response system).
- panic attacks can be avoided – Many people hold the belief that you can prevent panic attacks by avoiding the stimuli that trigger them. Panic disorder sufferers have panic attacks that occur unexpectedly, without environmental cause. Secondly, avoiding the objects or situations will only increase a person’s anxiety and fear. One of the most effective ways to get past anxiety triggers is to face them while trying to maintain a relaxed state. (In my workbook we talk about having a radical acceptance mindset)
Steps for How to Manage Panic Attacks
- Be kind to yourself. Your body is only doing what it knows how to do to keep you safe. It just needs to be reassured that it is safe.
- Learn to recognize when a panic attack is starting to happen. What symptoms do you notice first? This will help you to prepare when one is coming.
- Learn strategies to challenge your panic attack symptoms.
- Learn how to calm your body down – this will help your stress response system calm down and your body to begin to feel safe.
- Increase your understanding on what it means to have a radical acceptance mindset. The more your fear or resist something that is out of your control the worse your suffering.
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