Panic or anxiety, is something that everyone will experience at some time in their life and will not usually require counselling. However, some people suffer from such severe anxiety symptoms that it may become a disability that interferes with their day to day life. In some cases, they may develop episodes of sudden and intense anxiety, known as panic attacks.If a person suffering from intense anxiety or panic attacks, does not seek treatment (as many do not), they may mistake their symptoms for a physical illness such as a heart attack or a stroke, as many of the symptoms are physical. They may try to treat the symptoms on their own by the use of alcohol or drugs, or just suffer in silence. Over time, the experience of panic attacks leads people to avoid situations where they fear that they may experience further attacks. For example, someone who has a panic attack in a shopping centre may then avoid ever going to a shopping centre again, for fear of a reoccurrence and this anxiety will often spread to exclude other crowded and noisy places.
What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden burst of acute anxiety that may last from 2 -30 minutes, but at the time it feels as though it is lasting forever. Afterwards, the sufferer may feel weak and exhausted. Attacks can occur several times per week or even several times a day. Everyone experiences them differently but these are some of the most common physical symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- A feeling of choking
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Trembling, weakness
- Sweaty palms and excessive perspiration
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Palpitations or pounding heartbeat
- Dizziness, faintness
- Feeling out of touch with your body
- Nausea, churning in the stomach or lower bowel
- Feeling hot and cold or flushed
In addition, people may experience emotional symptoms or distressing thoughts:
- I am going insane/crazy
- I am going to lose control
- I am going to faint/collapse
- I am having a heart attack/ stroke
- I am going to start screaming and make a fool of myself
The likelihood of any of these things happening is remote but the fears during the attack are very strong.
How do I Reduce my Panic Attacks?
Seeking professional help is always advised but there are things that you can do by yourself, to both reduce the anxiety and regain a feeling of control.
- Make a list of your major symptoms of anxiety/panic
- List the major known triggers for your anxiety/panic
- Monitor your panic attacks: Keep a daily list for at least one week.
- Reduce physical stress by regular exercise, which will increase your mental tolerance of stress.
- Improve your nutrition: Eating sensibly will also reduce stress. Regular meals mean that you will not experience wide swings in blood sugar levels which can produce similar symptoms to anxiety.
- Drink plenty of fluid throughout the day, especially water
- Avoid crash diets and fasting
- Eat regular meals, 5-6 small meals a day are better than 1 large one
- Limit or give up coffee and tea (other than herbal)
- Keep alcohol consumption very low
- Give up smoking if possible or strictly limit it
- Avoid stimulant or mood altering drugs unless prescribed by your doctor
- Get plenty of sleep
Panic and anxiety is something that everyone will experience at some time in their life and can be very debilitating and frightening. However, counselling can teach the sufferer how to reduce attacks and to understand the triggers or underlying causes of anxiety, such as unresolved trauma.