What exactly is a panic attack? It is the sudden onset of extreme terror or fear. The person is gripped by panic even though there is an immediate cause of danger to that person or his/her loved ones or not. A panic attack provokes a feeling of helplessness and intense physical discomfort. The attack peaks in just a few minutes and initiates a number of physical changes as well such as:
- Soaring heart rate
- Cold sweat
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Abject negativity
Most people get a few panic attacks at some point in their lives but usually, there is a definitive trigger, reason, or phobia behind the attack. However, sometimes panic attacks can appear out of the blue for no reason, which means there is no cause for the panic attack. And if these attacks strike frequently, then the person has panic disorder.
Panic attacks can be so intense that sometimes people mistake them for heart attacks. Some people even feel like dying. There have also been instances of people feeling like they have been detached from their bodies and they are looking at themselves from outside their bodies. This is why it is important to learn how to stop a panic attack.
How long can a panic attack last?
It doesn’t take a panic attack longer than 10 minutes to climax after which it winds down. Rarely does it last for an hour. Sometimes they can last for 20-30 minutes.
Is panic disorder serious?
Many people fear panic attacks might be bad for their heart because their heart rate goes up and they experience chest pain. Actually, this fear is not unfounded. People who are diagnosed with panic disorder are more likely to have heart attacks. In fact, the risk of a heart attack goes up by 36% and other heart disorders by 47%.
Can you die from a panic attack?
Panic attacks might be terrifying and physically painful, but a person does die from it.
What are the causes of panic attacks and panic disorder?
Doctors and researchers have tentatively concluded that genetic factors might be responsible for panic disorders. Sometimes chronic stress or transitional phases of life can be the cause of sudden panic attacks even though there is no clear spike in anxiety or worries.
How would you know that it is a panic attack and not a heart attack?
The lines between the two can be blurry. If you want more clarity on which is which, you can talk to a doctor online on DocsApp.
Usually, when you go through a number of such attacks and consult a doctor you will be recommended an ECG to find out if all is well with your heart. A number of blood tests too will be administered to rule out the possibility of some other brain or heart disorders causing the attack.
How to deal with a panic attack?
Being in the middle of a panic attack is one of the scariest things. Before we talk about medication, we need to go into what you can do to alleviate the panic when an attack sets in:
- You have to slow your heart down. To do that, take control of your breathing. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Fill your lungs with oxygen and breathe out slowly. Count to four as you breathe in and hold it in for a few seconds and again count to four as you breathe out.
- Close your eyes when you feel an attack is oncoming. Visual stimuli can aggravate the intensity of the panic attack.
- Understand that this is not a heart attack and a panic attack will not kill you, it will pass. This will help you relax mentally.
- Ease your muscles. A panic attack makes them tense up. Mindfully relax the muscles all over the body. This will either stop an attack or make it go away quicker.
- Focus on a particular object, memory or person. This will take your attention off the panic attack which will make it pass sooner. Find a happy place in your mind where you feel most relaxed.
- Keep lavender essence on your person. If you think an attack is approaching, or if it has already crept up on you, pull out the lavender and breathe in its smell deeply. Lavender instantly soothes the nerves and kills anxiety. It is one of nature’s most effective stress-busters.
Medication and therapy
To keep incidents of a panic attack at bay your doctor will recommend certain medicines. These are all different forms of antidepressants. However, since the medication is long-term, doctors are careful to prescribe variants that are not habit-forming. That is why it is not wise to self-diagnose because you might get addicted physically and psychologically to anti-depressants.
You might also have to undergo therapy. In fact, you might not even need medicines if you respond well to therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps you get to the bottom of the underlying fears or stress that are behind the panic attacks. Therapy will help you gain control over yourself when a panic attack strikes. And once you feel like you are in charge of the situation, a panic attack will dwindle. You will also learn to be able to manage stress and worries better.
There are a few other things you can do to minimise panic attack incidents:
- Cut down on caffeinated drinks which trigger the production of the stress hormone cortisol
- Practice yoga to calm your nerves
- Do not smoke or consume alcohol
Now that you know how to stop a panic attack, follow the instructions and do not deviate from the routine.