What is it?
A panic attack is a brief episode of intense anxiety, which causes the physical sensations of fear. It is an intense episode of sudden fear that occurs when there’s no apparent threat or danger. In some cases, you may mistake the symptoms of a panic attack with a heart attack. Panic attacks occur frequently and unexpectedly and are often not related to any external threat. A panic attack can last from a few minutes to half an hour. However, the physical and emotional effects of the attack may last for a few hours. Panic attacks trigger your sympathetic nervous system. This leads to the “fight or flight” response that you experience when faced with danger. Panic attacks are common. Up to 35 percent of the population experience a panic attack at some time in their lives. A panic attack can also be called an anxiety attack. The person may choose to avoid a wide range of situations (such as leaving their home or being alone) for fear of experiencing an attack. You might experience a single panic attack. Or you might have multiple panic attacks throughout your life. If left untreated, recurrent panic attacks — and the fear of experiencing them — may lead you to avoid other people or public places. This may be a sign that you’ve developed a panic disorder
What are the symptoms?
A panic attack can occur suddenly and without warning. Its symptoms may come on gradually and peak after about ten minutes. They may include one or more of the following: chest pain difficulty swallowing difficulty breathing shortness of breath hyperventilating rapid heartbeat feeling faint hot flashes chills shaking sweating nausea stomach pain tingling or numbness feeling that death is imminent In some cases, you may develop an overwhelming fear of experiencing another panic attack. This may be a sign that you’ve developed a panic disorder.
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking steps to reduce stressetting plenty of sleep and staying physically active may help lower your stress levels. Stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, may also help. Remind yourself that the symptoms of a panic attack are uncomfortable, but not life threatening. Reassure yourself that you’ve felt these feelings before and nothing bad happened to you.
- Focus your attention on something outside your own body and symptoms. For example, distract yourself by counting backwards in threes from 100, recall the words from a favourite song or concentrate on the sights and sounds around you.
- Fleeing from the situation will only reinforce the perception that your panic attacks are unbearable. If you sit and allow the symptoms to pass, you gain confidence in your ability to cope.
- Stress management techniques
- Proper breathing techniques
- Relaxation techniques
- It’s also important to avoid or limit your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drugs.
- Avoid ‘self-talk’ that focuses your attention on your symptoms – don’t tell yourself ‘Stop panicking!’ or ‘Relax!’
Things to watch out for
Contact your GP .Always seek medical advice if you are not sure whether your symptoms, or another person’s symptoms, indicate a panic attack. In an emergency, dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Without treatment, frequent and prolonged panic attacks can be severely disabling. If you experience symptoms of a panic attack, seek medical attention right away. It is important to rule out the possibility that you are actually having a heart attack.