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What Is Panic, And How To Manage It.

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Whether you’ve experienced numerous panic attacks, or only a handful, the

dread of experiencing another is all the same. It may hit you like a wave; you

might feel overwhelmed and afraid, or you may see it emerging over the

horizon. Nonetheless, the loss of control makes you feel helpless.

Panic is a form of anxiety, and is a normal response to danger. This is also

known as the fight or flight response. During this response, our bodies release

hormones to either fight the threat, or run to safety. This response dates back

to when our ancient ancestors would be faced with regular threats, therefore,

having this response allowed them to protect themselves. However, it seems

that even though society has dramatically changed, and these threats are

more infrequent, our minds are yet to catch up with our contemporary

surroundings meaning this response has become misplaced.

What are panic attacks?

Experiencing a panic attack can be very distressing and frightening, and it

may even feel like you cannot recover from the experience. A panic attack is a

rush of intense physical and psychological symptoms; sometimes they appear

from nowhere, or some individuals may be aware of their triggers. The

symptoms of panic disorder overlap with other anxiety difficulties, however,

there are clear symptoms that separate them.

The symptoms of panic may include:

  • Sweating

  • A racing heart

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea

  • Feeling faint

  • Dizziness

  • Hot flushes

  • Shortness of breath

  • A need to go to the toilet

  • A choking sensation

  • Shaking

The key thoughts and feelings that separate panic from other anxiety

disorders are “am I going to pass out?” or “am I having a heart attack?”

These thoughts may lead individuals to experience a feeling of dread or a fear

of dying. The physical sensations that panic creates may feel like it isn’t a

psychological difficulty, and in fact it is a purely physical problem. Often

people will seek medical attention, as they are concerned that they are having

a heart attack.

Possible causes

Like many other mental health difficulties, panic can be a result of a number of

factors. The key causes may include, a traumatic event (sexual assault,

serious accident, a bereavement), family history of panic disorder, major life

events (divorce or having a baby), stress, smoking and caffeine intake.

Another cause of panic can be the panic itself; experiencing a panic attack in

a public place (supermarket or busy city centre) may mean that you fear

returning back to that particular place. Individuals will associate that place with

panic, and then may subsequently avoid returning back, which may impact

their life further.

Dealing with panic

Panic can feel overwhelming, and you might not know where to start when it

comes to controlling the symptoms. Fortunately, there are plenty of treatments

and techniques to help you work through panic.

Psycho-education is great for gathering information on what panic is and how

it can be managed. It is the backbone to many therapies, such as Cognitive

Behavioural Therapy and counselling, and focuses on providing information

about mental health disorders to aid recovery. It is believed that the more you

understand about the mental health difficulty you’re suffering with, the more

you will be able to regain control.

Focusing on breathing can be useful when experiencing a panic attack. This

might seem simple; but if you’ve ever felt stuck in a panic attack before, you

will know that you will notice your breathing feels shallow and accelerated.

Focusing on your breath allows you to ground yourself, taking your attention

away from the symptoms your experiencing. Diaphragmatic breathing (deep

breathing) calms your nervous system and makes you feel more relaxed.

Taking shallow breaths increases your anxiety and is associated with

hyperventilation, which is a common symptom of panic attacks.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation exercise that anyone can

use to ease distressing symptoms of panic. It is particularly helpful when

experiencing high levels of stress, and aims to relieve tension, muscle pain

and stiffness which individuals experience when feeling anxious. PMR

reverses these effects on the body by lowering heart rate and puts the focus

onto your body. This exercise is useful for making individuals more aware of

their bodies, and how physical tension contributes to their emotional state.

The idea is to slowly work around your body, tensing and relaxing parts of it,

allowing you to notice the difference between a tense and relaxed state. If

you’re able to relax your body, you might be able to let go of those anxious

thoughts and feelings.

It is important to remember that the symptoms of panic will reduce; we can

often believe that our anxiety will keep on rising and we will not be able to

recover - this is not the case. Remind yourself that it is your thoughts and

feelings causing the attack, and that it will pass. If you have experienced

panic before – remember that you have survived these previous attacks. If

possible, you should resist leaving places or situations due to the panic

attack, as this will make it more difficult for you to return in the future. Seeking

professional help and having a good support network for any anxiety disorder can really help you along your journey.

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