You are seized by sudden inexplicable terror. Your pulse skyrockets, you break out in sweat, you hyperventilate and your heart pounds loudly in your chest. You may be having a panic attack. Here are a few pointers to help you understand the who, what, where and why of a panic attack:
- First Timers. The first time you experience a panic attack, you may feel as if you are either having a heart attack or losing your mind. The symptoms are so sudden, extreme and debilitating that the experience is overwhelming. The recognition of the severity of your symptoms can make your symptoms even worse as your anxiety increases. Fortunately, the recognition that these symptoms are not unique and can be treated is the first step to dealing with a panic attack.
- Onset. One of the most confusing aspects of anxiety attacks can be their sudden onset. One minute you are content, the next moment you are convinced that you are about to die. During a panic attack, your body pumps out massive amount of adrenaline, and you experience an exaggerated version of the fight or flight response. It is the suddenness of onset and severity of symptoms that differentiate a panic attack from other anxiety disorders.
- Gender. More women than men experience panic attacks. Women also tend to experience more respiratory symptoms than men during a panic attack.
- Duration. Panic attacks usually peak within ten minutes and last for approximately half an hour. But they can last for longer or shorter periods of time. You will typically feel exhausted after the attack subsides.
- Trigger. Panic attacks usually have a trigger, or something that sets the attack off. In cases where a person suffers from a phobia, that phobia will often be the trigger. But often, the trigger is never discovered. It may be a passing thought that you don't even remember having or another stimulus that goes unnoticed. A psychologist or psychiatrist may help you to identify panic attack triggers.
- Panic Disorder. If you suffer from frequent panic attacks, worry excessively about experiencing another attack or change your behavior in response to panic attacks (i.e. avoiding social situations because you don't want to embarrass yourself), you may suffer from panic disorder.
- Treatment. Since the symptoms of a panic attack can mimic those of a heart attack, thyroid problem or asthma, it is important that you seek medical attention so that a doctor can ascertain whether you suffer from panic attacks or a medically-induced condition. Treatment for panic attacks will likely include therapy, pharmaceuticals (either anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs) and relaxation techniques. Learn how to meditate and relieve stress here.
Panic attacks are extremely debilitating. Don't let fear or embarrassment prevent you from seeking help.