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What to do when having a panic attack

Updated on August 16, 2013

Have you ever felt incredible desperation? Incredible fear, apprehension or something you thought was beyond your control and you got the feeling everything were going to be worst and worst until the end would be something fatal, and everything came out of the blue? Kind of like a nervous breakdown or even a heart attack, and it felt like you were going to die? Well, it is very likely that you had a panic attack. If you have been blessed enough to never have felt these symptoms, it is highly possible somebody you know has, even if you are not aware of it.

Panic attacks have variable intensity and duration. They may last hours if the patient cannot escape from the situation that triggered the attack. There are different kinds of these attacks, and people suffering it may feel scenarios completely different from each other. It has been said that panic attacks could be one of most intensely, frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person’s life. Some people usually talks about panic attacks and anxiety attacks as synonyms; they are not exactly synonyms, but they are very much alike. The main difference lies on the intensity of the symptoms and the length of them. I have been “blessed” with both of them.

These attacks are not rational, nothing is really happening, it is just that for some reason we felt we were taken out of our security zone. I have been slept (without even having a bad dream) and woke up all the sudden having a panic attack. The specialists says that in some cases the patient needs to go to a hospital, and those cases they just give him a sedative, and everything go back to normal. My first panic attack occurred when I was a little boy. As I grew up I experienced these attacks so many times I could never give an actual number of the occurrence of them –I am sure many of you know what I am talking about. I never knew what was happening to me, and I never talked to anyone about this, so I searched everywhere to find out what my problem was in order to find a solution for it. Sadly, I have never found a permanent solution, but over the years I have found ways to deal with it, reduce the repetition of the episodes, and lower the symptoms.

Speaking of the symptoms… here is a list of the most common ones:

· Sense of impending doom or danger

· Fear of loss of control or going crazy

· Fear of Dying

· Chest pain or discomfort

· Rapid heart rate

· Sweating

· Dizziness

· Hyperventilation

· Feelings of choking

· Tightness in throat

· Trouble swallowing

· Chills or hot flushes

· Abdominal cramping

· Trembling or shaking

· Nausea or abdominal distress

· Unsteady, lightheaded, or faint

· Shortness of breath or smothering

· Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)

· Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)

What to do when the panic attack comes (or when feel it coming)

· Focus on being in control over my mind, and keep it as clear as I can. Sounds impossible, I know, because a panic attack by definition is a moment when the patient feels no control over the mind; but I have found you can always have certain control over your mind, it is not easy, but it’s doable. I can at least buy a little time to gather more strength to act. “Count from one to ten before get mad” works pretty much in the same way; I try to pull myself together before take action.

· Acknowledge I am starting to panic. I am not in danger, just afraid.

· Accept the fact that you are afraid. Don’t go all “woe is me”, blaming myself (or anybody else, for that matter), don’t repeat the “Hail Mary” (your exit is not there). Acceptance is the first step to find a way out. I won’t fight it, I won’t distract myself from the feeling it, and I won’t deny it; I will face it. If I have a headache I get nothing from beating my head with a baseball bat. My getaway from that headache will start with the acceptance of the headache so I can take actions accordingly. Once again, denying it is not the answer, fighting it is not the answer either. I need to accept I am afraid. I am already at my worst, nothing beyond that will happen. But, the more I postpone the acceptance, the worse the fear gets.

· Breathe deep, inflating just my belly (do not raise my shoulders), inhale with my nose and exhale thru my mouth. It could work better with the eyes closed.

· Realize I am not going to die in that moment.

· Tell myself everything is ok. I will be scared, it is ok to be scared, and later I will be calmed again.

· Remember I have been here before (if you never felt it before, keep in mind nothing is really happening, you are just afraid about something that is not really there).

· Take into account that this feeling will go away in a few. Even if I feel better and then have another episode right after –it could happen even if I did everything right; I can do everything again knowing that I will succeed in a few.

· Bear in mind it does not matter what I do, the attack will go away, they always, mark my words, always go away. I just need to help myself while it is still here, try to be as calmed as possible.

Panic and anxiety attacks have nothing to do with being weak. I am not weak because I feel dread. Fear is not a sign of weakness –and neither is asking for help. And of course, it does not mean I am going crazy. It is just another struggle in my life. You can make whatever you want out of it. I decided to make it just another learning experience, not something keeping me away from enjoying my life. I don’t love it when the attacks come my way, but I love how I feel about myself when they go away.


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