No Panic: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Panic Attacks

Unexplained and unpredictable attacks of fear and anxiety can ruin plans and deprive the enjoyment of life. Let’s understand the causes of panic attacks and learn how to cope with them.

What Is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an anxiety attack that overtakes a person for no apparent reason and lasts about 5-20 minutes. The attack is accompanied by unpleasant physical symptoms that only make the panic attack worse.

Episodic severe anxiety and fear can occur in patients with mental illness as well as in perfectly healthy people. One in five people has experienced this condition at least once, and about three percent of people experience panic attacks regularly.

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are difficult to confuse with anything else. The name of the condition accurately describes what is happening to a person – he is attacked by a sudden wave of panic, fear, the premonition of impending trouble. Faced with a panic attack, the person feels a loss of control. He feels as if he is going mad or having a heart attack.

  • Physical symptoms of a panic attack. Unruly hands and feet, dry mouth, choking sensation, dizziness, arrhythmia, nausea, shortness of breath, heart pain
  • Emotional states during a panic attack. Feeling of unreality of what is happening, fear of sudden death, helplessness before an unknown threat

In panic attacks, the heart usually begins to race, the head is spinning, hot flashes or, on the contrary, cold sweats. Panic attacks are also accompanied by a disturbance in coordination – the legs become clumsy, the hands do not obey.

A person may experience panic attacks only once in their entire life, or may experience them several times a month or even a day. If the attacks occur regularly and negatively affect a person’s life, it’s already a panic disorder.

Causes of Panic Attacks

There is no single cause – panic attacks can cause a severe breakup with a partner, and thyroid disease. Only a doctor can help find the source of the attacks. The sooner and more precisely the cause can be found, the easier it will be to treat panic attacks and everything associated with them.

Psychological Causes

One of the main causes of panic attacks is stress. Severe experiences, such as experiencing violence or the death of a loved one, can cause acute bouts of fear, anxiety and worry. To work through these traumas, you need to seek help from a psychologist. Trying to suppress or silence difficult emotions will only contribute to the development of panic disorder.

Also, irrational thinking – negativizing or catastrophizing what is happening – can lead to panic attacks. It’s difficult to track such tendencies on your own, so it’s more reliable to rely on a professional outside view.

Mental Illness

Panic attacks can develop in the background of pre-existing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses. Self-diagnosis is inadmissible here – only a therapist can make a diagnosis.

Social Causes

The modern rhythm of life can be a test of strength. Toxic corporate culture, constant overwork, material responsibility, lack of fun activities, like playing at and going out with friends, and the race for career success often lead to burnout and panic attacks.

Concomitant Diseases as a Cause of Panic Attacks

Heart disease, hormonal changes, and side effects of certain medications can also trigger panic attacks. Hormonal changes include menstruation, the beginning of sexual activity, the period of pregnancy, the birth of a child. Also any serious diseases and pathologies can plunge you into a state of anxiety and lead to attacks.

What Are the Dangers of Panic Attacks

With panic attacks, a person feels that something bad, destructive is happening to him. There is a fear of going crazy or discovering a deadly disease. In fact, panic attacks do not portend any illness; they are simply an unpleasant state of the body.

The main danger of panic attacks is precisely in the feeling of fear of the next attack. A vicious circle occurs: panic intensifies panic. A person begins to avoid situations and places that can provoke an attack. As a result, his life becomes more and more limited, and panic disorder develops.

Panic attacks are most dangerous when a person is behind the wheel, at work, or in any other situation where it’s necessary to be focused and concentrated. Then a panic attack can actually cause physical harm, albeit indirectly.

Techniques for Relieving Panic Attacks

Keep in mind that a panic attack is bound to end, and your task is to wait it out. If you have regular attacks, you even know approximately how long the attack will last. The most important thing is not to worsen your condition with your own negative thoughts.

The direction of your thoughts should not be negative, but supportive. “It will pass soon, I just need to wait it out, it has happened to me before. I’ve dealt with it before, and I’ll deal with it now, too. Now I’m going to start with breathing practice and I’m going to get better.” That’s how you put yourself in the right frame of mind. After that thought, start doing the breathing technique that works best for you.

The most common technique used in panic attacks is the “square” technique: you should take a slow breath for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, take a slow exhalation for four counts, and again hold your breath for four counts, and then repeat everything again.

If pharmacy remedies help you, then you can use them as an auxiliary remedy. But the main remedy should be to work on your way of life, working through regularly recurring stressful situations and working with your mindset.

If you use auxiliary tools without the main ones, no miracles will happen. You have to work not with the symptom, but with the causes of the condition. You have to figure out what’s keeping you from feeling happy and in harmony. Unlike pills and herbal teas, such work will have a long-term positive effect.

How to Relieve a Panic Attack in a Public Place

In a public place, a person may experience a panic attack more severely than usual because of anxious thoughts that people will just pass by if something happens to them. Also, feelings of shame and fear that outsiders will see his weakness can make the condition worse.

Fix these thoughts and don’t let them develop. Instead, change your train of thought – think about the fact that in public places there will always be people ready to support you and call an ambulance if necessary. If the shame and anxiety are so strong that you begin to avoid public places, you should see a therapist.

During a panic attack in a public place, you can use a “grounding” technique that engages all of your senses. It’s called “5-4-3-2-1.” Slow your breathing, look around you and find five objects in your gaze, mentally naming them. Then name the four sensations you feel, for example: “I feel the soft fabric of a sweater, I feel warmth in my palms.” Then listen to what’s going on around you and name the three main sounds. Now try to feel two smells. And then one taste – you can try to just imagine it, for example, remembering the taste of a green apple.

How to Help a Loved One Suffering From Panic Attacks

It’s important to choose a responsive behavior strategy without dwelling on what is happening. First, say that you are willing to support the person in the way he or she feels most comfortable. Perhaps someone will ask you to talk to them to focus on the voice, and someone else is more important a hug and a sense of security, the understanding that a loved one is close.

Avoid devaluation and phrases like “it’s something far-fetched, you just have nothing to do.” The person feels even more stressed because you give rise to feelings of guilt, shame, irritation and a feeling of loneliness. And stress only perpetuates this condition.

It’s also worth avoiding the other extreme – to make a whole performance out of what is happening and spin around, trying to “save” the loved one from a panic attack by all possible methods. The person may become even more frightened and think that something terrible is happening to him, since you are so excited about it.

It’s better to focus on the golden mean: a respectful attitude towards the person and a gentle, calm support. In the normal course of communication, clarify whether the person wants to share his or her experiences and what’s going on in his or her life. Explain that you are willing to support him, ask if he would like to talk about his condition with a therapist.

Is It Normal to Experience Panic Attacks?

It may seem like panic attacks are already the norm – they are so common. They occur more often in women than in men, and they also affect mostly people who live in big cities. However, panic attacks shouldn’t be considered the norm.

Panic attacks are a sign that something is going wrong in your life. The problem lies either in the outside world, or in the inner world. And the sooner you can deal with it, the sooner you’ll feel like a happy, harmonious person.