Key Characteristic: something is physically wrong, i.e. dying’
A panic attack is defined by the overwhelming fear that something is going wrong which will lead to death. Panic is what occurs when the brain is convinced death is imminent. Interestingly, most people who experience panic attacks report the same fears: heart attack, impending insanity, or general loss of control. Increased heart rate occurs during a panic attack which contributes to lightheadedness and feelings of suffocation. Since the brain is not rationalizing it interprets these biological signals irrationally. Moving at a fiercely rapid pace, the hyperactive brain (losing bits of oxygen) takes these thoughts and runs with them. If death isn’t the answer, a dormant disease or illness that has gone undiagnosed is surfacing and threatening livelihood.
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks last an average of 20 minutes. Following the peak of a panic attack is an exhausting come down which oddly can oddly result in diarrhea or an upset stomach. For the next few days, someone who has had a panic attack might experience symptoms similar to PTSD. They are frightened of having another one. Any physical or psychological symptom that could indicate an oncoming panic disorder is traumatizing. The heightened anxiety can cause another panic attack.
Treating panic disorder requires a combination of psychiatry and psychology. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, and practices like mindfulness meditation can help manage panic attacks.
What to do when experiencing a panic attack:
- Talk to someone: if you have had a panic attack before and can recognize the signs, let someone know what is going on. Talking through a panic attack can keep you grounded in reality. Another person can help you realize nothing is wrong and that you’re perfectly safe.
- Breath: focus on an object or use a meditation app to match your inhales and exhales to a pattern or someone’s voice. Focusing on breath regulation will help manage your heart rate, which is increasing.
- Affirmations: there are many panic attack apps which help you read through grounding affirmations. Repeating statements that affirm “I am healthy” “I am safe” “I am sane” are helpful.