Panic Attacks

I’ve suffered with panic attacks for the past 6 years and it pretty much ruled my life when I first started having them. No one really understands what its like to have a panic attack or what they feel like, unless of course they have been unfortunate enough to suffer with them. Of course its common knowledge that no one really ‘gets’ panic attack, even sufferers don’t really understand them, I’ve spent hours trying to explain them just to myself let alone others. So I hope if you’re reading this as a sufferer this may help in some way, or if you’re reading this because you know someone who is suffering that this helps you understand how it feels and how you can hopefully help them.

Experiencing anxiety and worry in everyday life is totally normal and anxiety is an emotion that EVERYONE feels at some point in their life, in one way or another. Whether it’s stress from school or work or something as simple as going to a party or on a date for the first time. Panic attacks are like an alarm going off in your head, when you’re faced with high anxiety or a situation that scares you.  And it’s more than just those butterflies or the feeling in the pit of your stomach as you anticipate the big drop on a roller coaster.

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are like a sudden feeling of fear and dread washing over you out of nowhere, within a second, without even realising it our body releases a burst of adrenaline. Its the ‘fight or flight’ programmed in your brain for a life or death situation. The adrenaline to be strong and fight and the adrenaline to run fast away from the danger is the flight. It’s more than just the adrenaline released all the time in situations where you are, for example, extremely excited for something. Its the alarm in your head again telling you ‘this is not a situation I want to be in’ and panic attack sufferers are a lot more sensitive to this alarm, like some car alarms that are set by just a gust of wind.

What happens during a panic attack?

Because adrenaline is released into your body; your heart starts to be faster, your muscles tense and breathing becomes difficult. This causes you to breath in more oxygen, which in turn becomes unneeded energy and because breathing becomes difficult, this can cause you to panic even more. Blood gets diverted to your muscles which is what causes you to shake, become light headed and gives you tingles in your hands, like pins and needles. Other physical and emotional sensations you may feel during a panic attack can include:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Heart racing
  • Feeling claustrophobic – like the room is closing in on you
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Chest Pains
  • Heightened senses; everything sounds louder and seems closer than it really is
  • Feeling of intense dread and fear
  • Hand wringing
  • Emotional
  • Feelings of unreality

Panic attacks come on very quickly and can last from as little as 5 minutes or as long as 20 minutes. There have been reports of panic attacks lasting up to an hour, but this is more likely to be one attack after another or  a high level of anxiety remaining after the initial attack. This is what its like for me, unless I can get alone and concentrate completely on breathing I remain externly anxious after a panic attack.

All I can remember as to why I started having panic attacks was when my dad became ill. I hated school and didn’t want to leave my mum in case something happened to her as well, because if it happened to my dad why wouldn’t it happen to my mum.

The school were supportive at first, but of course they didn’t completely understand and thought it was all an over reaction, that it was a way of seeking attention. But this was the last thing I wanted, attention made me more anxious. I felt like I had no control over anything.

The main cause of panic attacks for me is fear of the unknown, but they would also be brought on by being surrounded by lots of people. I remember sitting in a whole school assembly once and then suddenly, quicker than I could even think about it, the room started to feel like it was closing in on me and it felt as if the room was turning upside down and that I was just going to fall.

I also to do this day have a fear of being sick, it’s a fear I’ve had since I can remember and I think it got worse when my dad became ill, he had a very low immune system and I always feared I would give something to him and make him worse. That’s when my problem with eating started.

I also don’t like going to parties and they can massively bring on a panic attack. The thought of getting shitfaced and out of control terrifies me and if that makes me a boring person so be it, but honestly I would rather stay in watching Harry Potter with the dog than go out like most people my age, I’m a boring sod I know.

What I’m trying to say is panic attacks can happen anywhere for any reason at any time.

What Helps Me

It may sound simple but slow deep breathing really is the key. Getting fresh air and sitting somewhere quiet where I can just concentrate on my breathing helps. As does some form of exercise (to get rid of the extra energy) such as fanning myself, which also helps with the hot flushes or knocking my knees together.  To try and avoid a panic attack all together I tend to do everything slower and with more care if I am in a situation which makes me feel anxious, I find listening to music also helps. As you know writing is therapy to me so writing how I am feeling in a diary or notebook (or even on my phone) especially helps ease the anxious feelings I have.

Ways to help someone who is having a panic attack
  1. The key is to remain calm, don’t freak out and don’t give them any more reason to panic
  2. Be patient with them, don’t force them to move or talk
  3. DON’T say ‘stay calm’ ‘don’t panic’ ‘stop being so silly’ ‘pull yourself together’ you’re ruining this’
  4. DO stay positive and breath slow and deeply whilst encouraging them to do the same, allow them to concentrate on your breathing
  5. Remember to keep your voice quite and calm, senses are heightened so even if you are just talking in a normal voice it can seem like shouting.

Obviously this is a really personal post for me and I hope I have managed to cover everything.

And to anyone who is going through a hard time or is feeling anxious for any reason : you WILL get through this! Trust me, I have.

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