A panic attack is an intense sense of fear that appears suddenly, accompanied by symptoms of great anxiety, such as palpitations, sweating, tremors, shortness of breath, dizziness, or a sense of unreality.
The first step in overcoming a panic attack is to have proper information about what it is and how it originates.
The first time you have a panic attack it’s very likely that you’ve been going through a phase of considerable stress and anxiety for some time now.
Each person has a different way of reacting to these situations. For example, some people tend to react more with digestive symptoms, such as nausea and abdominal discomfort, while others, as is probably the case if you have panic attacks, tend to react more with palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness (i.e. their cardiorespiratory system is more affected).
This means that if you spend a lot of time feeling anxious on a regular basis, your breathing is shallow, your muscles are tense and you can barely take a deep breath. When you breathe badly, your heart speeds up because you are lacking oxygen and you may also feel dizzy. I mean, you’re hyperventilating. And it is precisely this hyperventilation (along with the help of a number of psychological factors) that can lead to the first panic attack.
The beginning of the first panic attack
At any given time, hyperventilation symptoms may be especially severe. When you notice these symptoms you react with fear, you think that something is wrong with you, that you are going to faint, that something is wrong with your heart. As you think these things, you feel more fear, and the fear makes your anxiety increase and hyperventilates even more, which, in turn, generates more fear.
You think that you are going to die, or that you have something very serious, or that you will faint and hit your head against the ground, that there is no one to help you. At this point you may already be having a panic attack, because your fear and anxiety have reached their peak.
After the first attack there remains the fear that it will happen again. This fear keeps you in a state of anxiety and hyperventilation. All of this increases the likelihood that it will happen again and you will end up with a panic disorder.
The emergence of agoraphobia
Agoraphobia is an intense fear of having a panic attack in a place where you can’t get help or consider dangerous for any reason, or from which you can’t escape (shopping malls, crowded places, buses, subways, etc.). This fear can cause you to let go to these places (unless someone accompanies you), or in the most serious cases, to stop even going out into the street.
What to do in the face of a panic attack
Although panic attacks seem to come on suddenly, they often begin with physical symptoms of hyperventilation. That’s when you can intervene:
Take deep breaths, completely filling your lungs with air (starting with the abdomen) and slowly expelling it.
- Watch your thoughts. Instead of starting to think about terrible catastrophes, think about things like the following:
- Nothing bad happens to me, it’s just anxiety and hyperventilation, I’m not going to die, I’m not going to have a seizure, I’m not going crazy.
- If I think I’m going to faint I can find a place to sit, breathe and wait for it to pass.
- Now I’m going to relax, not think about what’s happening to me and concentrate on positive things or what I see on the street, to divert my attention.
- Calm down, breathe, nothing happens, you get over it right away (or any other reassuring phrase that helps you).
- I’m not going to lose control, even if a person feels a lot of anxiety they can keep doing what they’re doing, even driving and I can do it too.
- I’m not gonna be catastrophic, it’s not a catastrophe, it’s just an unpleasant moment. I can take it.
Besides, you can do the following:
- If you smoke regularly, it is advisable to quit smoking, as it increases hyperventilation and promotes panic attacks.
- Analyze if there are important sources of stress in your life and try to find a way to reduce the level of stress in your life.
- Do regular exercise and breathing exercises to make sure your breathing is no longer shallow. Practice breathing exercises throughout the day, whenever you can, especially in the most tense moments.
- Learn relaxation techniques and practice them regularly.