Because feelings of panic, like all feelings, are very personal and individual, no two people experience them in exactly the same way. However, a range of physical symptoms/ sensations have been identified and you may experience some or even all of them. These are as follows:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heart rate or palpitations
- Choking and/ or feeling smothered
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling nauseous
- Pains in the chest
- Tingling, feelings of numbness, hot flushes
- Overwhelming feelings of fear, perhaps including a fear of dying
- Fear that you are going crazy or losing control
- Feelings of unreality, of not being in touch with what’s going on outside
It is just as difficult to pinpoint what triggers off panic attacks. For some people, they seem to come in response to crowded places (e.g. supermarkets, busy public transport etc.) for others, it may be the response to particular stressful situations (e.g. sitting an exam, making a presentation to a large group of people, preparing to fly, going to the dentist).
Perhaps even more frightening is when a panic attack develops as you are relaxing or preparing to sleep.
However you experience a panic attack and wherever it happens, it is very frightening indeed and your only concern will seem to be to stop it happening again.
What can you do?
- Keep telling yourself that however awful it feels the attack will pass
- Remind yourself that it is the natural Response of your body to some sort of feelings of fear and that the same instincts which set off the attack will keep you safe and breathing
- Practice breathing slowly and calmly. To do this, place your hand on your chest and one just above your navel, make sure that it is the hand on your stomach which is moving up and down as you breathe deeply and slowly
- Look for some activity which will, temporarily, take your mind away from your fear. This is likely to be a repetitive activity which needs your attention
- Perhaps contact somebody who can sit with you or talk with you calmly and comfortably, without themselves being worried about how you are feeling
In the longer term:
- Practice deep breathing and relaxation on a regular basis so that you will much more easily fall into that pattern if an attack is threatened
- Look back over the past months to see if your general resistance is low as a result of, say:
- Your being physically exhausted
- Illness e.g. a bad attack of influenza
- Beginning to relax after a demanding and stressful time
- Fluctuations in hormone levels in the body
Take some action to put that right
Try to look very carefully at your lifestyle over the past few months, recognising the ways in which you may have been making demands on yourself which are not manageable or doing things which you do not really want to do.
Try to recognise the links between your thoughts and your actions and, if necessary, change your thoughts
Using your thoughts to help you
Once you have had a panic attack, your main fear is that you may have another one. For example, if you are in a very stuffy room, you may begin to sweat and feel as if you are choking. This is the natural result of being in that environment. However, for you it may feel like a sign that you are going to have another attack and so your thoughts trigger off the attack.
If you are able to keep telling yourself that the feelings are not associated with panic, then you may simply arrange to leave the room and get some fresh air.
Another example may be anxiety about a work situation. As you face a particular challenge in work, the symptoms of panic seem to be coming (e.g. shallow breathing, sweating, feeling sick). You can remind yourself about where your feelings are really coming from and that they are understandable. Now you have the choice either to leave the situation because you do not want to be in that place or to ‘change’ your thoughts about it, seeing the work situation as a challenge which does not matter too much and does not need to make you afraid.
Occasionally, the trigger for the attack may come from a past event which you have now forgotten. If you can search yourself and identify this real cause of the attack then you have the means to put things right.
Where to get further help
Many people find it helpful and reassuring to share their fears and their coping strategies with somebody else. This person may be a member of the family or a close friend.
Sometimes it is also helpful to talk with somebody outside the family and your
Counselling is available through your Trust / employer - check the Intranet for more details