PANIC ATTACKS AND PANIC DISORDER
Panic – that feeling you get as your game crashes before you’ve saved. A panic attack is a severe feeling of anxiety which can happen suddenly and without warning, and for no apparent reason. At least 1 in 10 people have had a panic attack – so you are not alone!
SYMPTOMS CAN INCLUDE
- A ‘thumping heart’ (palpitations).
- Sweating and trembling.
- Dry mouth.
- Hot flushes or chills.
- Feeling short of breath, sometimes with choking sensations.
- Chest pains.
- Feeling sick (nauseated), dizzy, or faint.
- Fear of dying or going crazy.
- Numbness or pins and needles.
- Feelings of unreality, or being detached from yourself.
Imagine how Link feels when he’s facing Ganon – this ‘fight or flight’ feeling is exactly what you experience in a panic attack. You also tend to over-breathe (hyperventilate), which can make the symptoms you are experiencing worse.
A panic attack usually lasts 5-10 minutes; however, sometimes panic attacks come in waves for up to two hours – this may be particularly frightening but remember that panic attacks are not life threatening.
You may experience repeated panic attacks, which is called a panic disorder.
In panic disorder, there may be an initial event that triggers a panic attack, but then the attacks after that can occur randomly. This may cause additional anxiety about having further attacks.
HOW TO DEAL WITH A PANIC ATTACK
The first thing to do is focus on your breathing, taking deep, slow breaths. Concentrating on taking slow breaths can distract your mind and make you feel more relaxed. Learning meditation techniques, particularly around breathing, can also help.
Some people find that tummy (abdominal) breathing can be helpful. Try putting one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy. You should aim to breathe deeply by moving your tummy, with your chest moving very little. This can help relax your mind and body.
Treatment can help if you have repeated attacks. The main aim of treatment is to reduce the number and severity of panic attacks. Treatment may include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medications.
Everyone has different coping techniques that they go to for panic attacks – it’s ok if some don’t work for you, but try not to dismiss them all – you deserve to know how to support yourself.
Some people find that strong tasting foods like mints can be effective when having a panic attack.
Remember: Panic attacks will end.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE HAVING A PANIC ATTACK
It can be distressing to witness someone having a panic attack, but here are some things that you can do to support someone:
- Ask how you can help them
- A lot of people who experience panic attacks or regular anxiety will have their own ways of supporting themselves during a panic attack. This might not always be possible if the person experiencing the attack isn’t able to communicate easily, so asking those you know may be susceptible to anxiety in advance how best to support them can be useful for the future.
- Support them with breathing exercises
- If someone is struggling to breathe deeply and slowly, breathing with them can be an excellent way to set the tempo and make it easier for them to breathe with you.
- If this is something that the person is able to do, distracting with easy conversation can be a great way to move their mind off of their panic and into a calmer space
- Moving into a safer space
- Asking someone experiencing a panic attack whether they’d like to move to a different space (perhaps quieter, or outdoors) can support in helping someone ground themselves.
- Validate and reassure
- Many people who experience panic attacks may feel anxious about having an attack in front of loved ones or strangers. By validating their experiences, being supportive and reassuring, and not minimizing their feelings, it can create a safer environment for those who may be struggling.