The Curse of the Panic Attack

It feels like your heart is pumping out of your chest; you’re sweating and in danger of choking. You feel like you’re literally going to pass out at any moment.

If you recognise these symptoms, you’re probably one of a growing number of panic attack sufferers in the UK.

Although many of us experience moments of high anxiety - e.g. having to give a presentation or wedding speech - a panic attack takes that sensation to a whole different level. Anxiety attacks can last for 10 minutes to half an hour. The physical symptoms of a panic attack can often be mistaken for a heart attack, such is the level of discomfort and distress.

If you suffer from panic attacks, you are probably aware of some of the science behind what is happening to you. When you have an attack, the physical symptoms you’re experiencing are your body’s reaction to sensing a threat. Your nervous system revs up to prepare your body for action. When your system remains ‘revved up’ because your parasympathetic nervous system fails to step in and stabilise you, bringing you down to a calmer state, it can trigger a full blown attack.

Ok - it’s all very well understanding the science behind it, but how do you control it or even stop it from happening? Firstly, you might start by identifying underlying stress factors in your life which could be responsible for the anxiety attacks. For example, are you overloaded at work? Are you struggling in a relationship? Are you suffering from self-esteem issues? Have you experienced bereavement recently? Seeking professional help to explore your issues might be beneficial in order to help you get to the core of the psychological problem.

Secondly, sufferers can get a warning sign that an attack is imminent. You might feel disorientated, or your heart may start to race. When you sense the onset of an attack, breathing exercises can help stop the attack from escalating, as it helps to slow the heart rate. Breathe in slowly and deeply and then out slowly to the count of five, and repeat this until you feel your heart rate stabilise.

Thirdly, it is also helpful to try to control your thoughts when you feel an attack coming on. Rather than spinning into a negative thought pattern, repeat a positive mantra to yourself such as; “I can overcome this”. Your life doesn't have to be blighted by anxiety attacks; counselling can be a great option to help support you in taking positive action.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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