The first time I had a panic attack I was 16 years old. I was house sitting for a friend and never really liked being home alone, especially in the middle of a desolate area. I soon found myself laying on the living room floor in a panic. I couldn’t breathe. I was inhaling but it felt like no air was making it to my lungs. With sweaty hands I called my mom and muttered out the words ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ A short while later I found myself in the emergency room hooked up to all kinds of machines. After realizing I wasn’t dying, I sat there contemplating what my life would look like now that I had a heart condition. Through my daze I heard that doctor in the background speaking to my mom. “She’s perfectly healthy,” he said. He then walked over with a pamphlet that explained anxiety and panic attack symptoms. I felt so silly. I honestly believed I was dying, and then was told my body reacted to a falsely perceived threat and essentially went into overdrive.
If you have ever had your life interrupted due to a panic attack, the symptoms likely sound familiar. You may experience fear, detachment, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, dry mouth, sweating, chills or hot flashes, trembling, nausea or upset stomach, headaches, or feeling faint or dizzy. These feelings can creep up when you least expect it, and they become paralyzing in the moment, but they don’t have to control your life. Learning to manage and combat these symptoms can help you reduce the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack in the future, and avoid seeking medical treatment.
The first thing you can do is to learn your symptoms. This is recommended to do in a safe place such as a therapy office. Take some time to recall what your body feels when you feel this coming on. Most people describe shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and mild chest pain in the beginning. After you identify your warning signs, work with someone to learn how to challenge them. If you feel like you are dissociating try some grounding techniques, and identifying things around you. As your breathing fluctuates try inhaling through your nose for 5 seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth as you feel your abdomen expand. In addition, you can also try progressive muscle relaxation. Start by tensing your muscles and holding them for 5-10 seconds. As you release the tightness in your muscles, feel the tension dissipating as you work through different muscle groups.
Panic attacks often occur in those with a high state of anxiety. Working with a licensed professional to learn about and manage these symptoms can help you take back control of your life and reduce the frequency of symptoms. If you are tired of dealing with the stress and fatigue brought on my these attacks, reach out to a professional therapist and take back control.