Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
17th January, 20120 Comments
It is a fear that can come from the blue skies and grip our heart. There is an intensive feeling of fear and apprehension, often with no obvious cause. The arrival of a Panic attack is unheralded and sudden. While the attack is of relatively brief duration the dread and washed out feeling it leaves can last for a considerable time.
Statistics will tell you that 10% of us will suffer a panic attack at some time in our lives. While panic attacks can happen to anyone, often the first experience will be during early adulthood. Many who experience panic attacks fear that they are having a panic attack or are going mad. They arrive at their GP worried that they will be judged as wasting the doctor’s time because by then the sensation that drove them there.
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks can be triggered by many things. Often they are attributable to environmental factors such as stress or anxiety disorders. Those who have panic attacks report a variety of symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart
- Feeling light headed
- Fear of dying or going crazy
Are there steps that you can take to cope with a panic attack?
Many of us will have seen that breathing into a paper bag helps with a panic attack. However as few of us have a paper bag to hand when the attack starts, it is important to realise that what the bag is doing is helping to control our breathing. Panic attacks are associated with shallow, fast breathing. If you feel that sense of panic coming on take deep slow breaths, breathe in counting to 4, hold for 2 then out for 5 and repeat. You can also breathe through cupped hands which will act like a paper bag.
Remember that it is a panic attack and that you will survive, the symptoms are unpleasant but they will pass and you will survive. Fighting against the symptoms can make the attack worse as it may increase the hormone levels charging round your body. You may need to be very firm in telling yourself that it will pass. Learn to relax. There are many on line resources, which can teach you and help you to relax, to let go of tension and make panic attacks less likely. There is a double payback in that it is a good technique for reducing stress and it is easily completed in 10/15 minutes.
As well as learning to relax, take a long look at your life are there areas of your life that need work to reduce stress and anxiety both of which are triggers for the attack. Do you need to make changes, many find that exercise is a good stress reliever and it helps cope. Try to avoid the less helpful coping mechanisms like smoking and alcohol and recreational drugs, as they often represent a temporary fix, then intensify the symptoms and cause other health issues.
Finally talk to someone about your feelings, how do you feel about the attack, talk about any stresses or anxiety. Friends and family can help but many people turn to a counsellor to help them through the difficulties. Working with a counsellor can help uncover the issues leading to the panic attacks and can help you to better control them.
Related articles from our experts
- The what, how and why of anxiety
Dr Alexander Hektorsson (Chartered Psychologist)16th January, 2017
- Relief from the grip of anxiety, stress and panic
Greg Savva, Counselling in Twickenham & Whitton, Masters Degree, UKCP,21st July, 2016
- Understanding Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Dr. Sidrah Muntaha, Harley Street & South Woodford, London2nd July, 2016
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