Panic attack – What now?
Fear is a natural reaction of the body to a dangerous situation and serves to potentially save our lives, because it ensures that we are more cautious and able to act.
But what happens when fear takes over and restricts life?
Panic attacks are a form of anxiety disorder. It is one of the most common mental illnesses.
What is a panic attack?
They usually come out of nowhere and often disappear as quickly as they appeared, but for sufferers it feels like an eternity. During a panic attack, our body believes we are in danger and this manifests itself in sometimes severe physical and psychological symptoms. In general, anyone can have a panic attack in their life, whether they are very sensitive or very self-confident. However, there are people who suffer from panic disorder and suffer from recurrent, severe attacks.
What are the symptoms?
These are as varied as the people who get a panic attack, and no two attacks are alike. However, there are a few typical things you can recognise about a panic attack.
- Shortness of breath
- A racing or palpitating heart
- Visual disturbance/flickering
- Chest/throat tightness
- Tingling/numbness in the limbs
- Feelings of unreality and strangeness
Most panic attacks last a maximum of 30 minutes and pass on their own. They often subside after a few minutes. However, there are extreme exceptions where they last for several hours.
Immediate help for panic attacks!
Generally, there is no absolute solution to a panic attack, as every person is different, but there are a few tips to counteract them.
- breathing: focus on your breathing, a proven trick is the 4 -7 -8 breathing. Inhale through your nose and count to 4, hold your breath and count to 7, then exhale slowly through your mouth and count to 8. Repeat until you become calmer. By exhaling for a long time you calm your nerve system and you‘ll get back the feeling of control.
- Grounding: stay where you are and try to resist the flight reflex, this is difficult but effective. Concentrate on keeping both feet firmly on the floor, or if you are sitting also keep your hands flat on the floor. Try to focus on the floor or the chair you are sitting on.
- say “stop”: Try to be aware that you are having a panic attack and that your body is reacting to stress or anxiety. Realise that this will soon pass. Meanwhile, you can influence your thinking by saying “stop” out loud or imagining a stop sign. This is a method from cognitive behavioural therapy to break the thought carousel.
- Water: If you have a sink nearby, splash water on your face or run it over your forearms. Warm water slows down the heartbeat. Also, the water on your skin will distract you from the things that scare you.
- Exercise: During a panic attack, the body builds up a lot of energy for the potential escape it is trying to achieve. You can dissipate this through exercise and get rid of the excess energy. Try running fast, doing jumping jacks or squats. Regular exercise can also help you cope with anxiety and depression in the long term. If you are out and about and don’t have the opportunity to do any exercise, you can also try clenching your fists. Count slowly to 5 and then let go, enjoy the relaxation that comes afterwards. If this is not enough, you can do the same with your toes at the same time to get rid of the excess energy.
- direct your thoughts: talk to a friend. The best thing to do is to talk about completely irrelevant things. When no one is around, look at a picture on the wall, count things around you that are a certain colour. It doesn’t matter what, as long as you focus on something else outside of your chaotic thoughts.
What helps against panic attacks in the long term?
Your lifestyle can have a significant impact on how prone you are to panic attacks. Drugs, nicotine, caffeine or alcohol, for example, can increase panic. So if you are prone to panic attacks, you should avoid these substances. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will also promote a healthy mind and make you strong against anxiety.
However, if panic attacks occur more often, it can lead to a “fear of fear”, in which those affected no longer dare to do certain things or visit certain places. This can lead to social isolation, which in turn can lead to depression, sleep disturbance or other problems.
You should not be afraid to see a doctor early and get advice.
Our doctors at myTeleDoc can also help you understand and cope with panic attacks, and you can make an appointment with a specialist from the comfort of your own home.