Understanding and Dealing With Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be very scary to experience, especially if they are a new experience. During a panic attack, it's likely that you will feel very breathless, which may well evoke feelings of panic and intense distress as you struggle to catch your breath. Many first-time sufferers mistakenly believe that they are having a heart attack because of this inability to breathe properly. Indeed, many people feel that they are going to die during a panic attack for this very reason. If a panic attack occurs for the first time during the night, this feeling is especially scary as it invariably comes without warning.
It's only natural to panic during a panic attack, but this works very much against you. As the name suggests, panic attacks tend to happen when you are already distressed, which means that any added stress that you experience (ie, the symptoms of a panic attack in which you feel out of control) will contribute to the symptoms and make them feel even more intense. This is not always the case though, and panic attacks can occur very much out of the blue without you even realising that you are under stress or pressure.
As panicking can quickly intensify the symptoms of a panic attack, the best thing to do is to try to remain as calm as possible until the feelings pass. As someone who has experienced panic attacks as part of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I know that this might seem like a case of “much easier said than done,” but it is much simpler to achieve if you can hang onto the idea that the unpleasant feelings will eventually subside if you refuse to give in to them.
However scary the experience appears, the symptoms will disappear on their accord and this will happen much more quickly if you can repeatedly tell yourself that nothing disastrous is going to happen as a result of your panic attack (ie, you're not going to die - despite your initial fears when the feelings first developed). Regular breathing is the key to this, as shallow breathing tends to mean that less oxygen reaches the brain. This in turn can cause further panic, thus entering into a very vicious circle.