Firstly let’s just spend a moment thinking about the name “panic attack”. What a name to give to anything. The very name itself tells the person that they are so hopeless that they panic about the things that the rest of humanity takes calmly in its stride, not only that, but the panic is so bad that it must be called an attack. No wonder people feel bad about these sensations and don’t want to talk about them, often keeping them hidden.
The current research says that between one and two percent of the population has at least four separate attacks in any four-week period. Then a further ten percent has intermittent attacks, serious enough for them to seek help, usually through their doctor.
That means, if you have ever watched a football match the chances are that at least two of the people on the field suffer panic attacks, and that’s excluding the referee and linesmen. If you were then to look around at the number of people in the stands and think about how many of them have attacks, it becomes clear that if you suffer panic attacks you are far from alone in this.
I am going to put forward the idea that we stop calling them panic attacks and instead used a more accurate name like Moments of Heightened Awareness because that is really what they are. They are times when your body takes control for a short while and zips up your awareness so that you can deal with what your body has decided might be a threat.
Unfortunately, your body doesn’t always get it right. For instance there are times when you might find yourself a little bit stressed, so your body decides (without asking you) to give you a little shot of adrenaline, your heart rate goes up and breathing increases, all very useful if you need the energy to escape from the sabre-tooth tiger over there behind the trees, but not much use in modern-day situations like sitting in economy class waiting for the aircraft to takeoff.
And that’s the problem, a moment of heightened awareness is there to give you the extra physical power to either fight the danger or run away from it; usually known as the fight or flight response. But the stress we face today is different. We face noise, bright lights and day-to-day worries that our ancestors could not have imagined, but we still have the same rather primitive internal reactions to that stress and it shows itself as a moment of heightened awareness.
So what can you do about it?
Well, there are some things you can do to help keep attacks under control.
• Think about how much coffee and sugar you are taking in.
• Remember there is also quite a lot of caffeine in tea so drinking eight cups of tea a day instead of three cups of coffee won’t really help.
• Food colouring can have an effect too.
• Keeping a food diary could help to identify the ones that might be triggering attacks.
• The way you think about attacks can bring them on, even to the extent that worrying about having an attack can be the cause of one. So understanding your own personal triggers can be a great help.
• Many people say they have benefited from learning relaxation techniques or doing yoga, and it does seem to make sense.
• Although these sensations are really horrible for the person at the time, having the certain knowledge that they will pass, is for many people a great help, however, if you are having attacks and they last longer than 10 to 15 minutes I do recommend that you see your doctor.
This all begs the question will counselling help? And I have to say there are no guarantees, but it is often the case that it can and does help. Knowing the causes and triggers of your attacks might well give you an understanding of what's happening to you, and that might give you some power over the sensations that come with an attack.
Counselling can also give you better self-understanding and self-knowledge, and those are powerful tools when it comes to dealing with panic attacks, or moments of heightened awareness.