Coping With Panic Attacks
A PANIC ATTACK is characterised by intense fear and anxiety, and is fairly sudden and relatively brief. It is not a sign of a serious illness.
SYMPTOMS OF PANIC ATTACK
Physical Thinking Feeling
Heart rate speeds up - thudding It's happening again Fear
Fast breathing I'll collapse Dread
Short of breath I can't breathe Claustrophobia
Chest pains I'm dying Intense anxiety
Headache, muscle pain, tight throat I'll choke Foreboding
Need for the loo I'll wet myself
Nausea I'll be sick, I'll be humiliated
Faint/dizzy/unsteady I'm going mad Unreality
Numbness in fingers/toes I must escape
Trembling/shaking I'm dying
Sweating/hotness It's out of my control
WHAT IS HAPPENING ?
Panic is a form of fear. Fear is a normal reaction to dangerous situations, and is triggered by a perceived threat. When you are afraid, your body prepares itself for action, with what has been called the 'fight or flight' reaction.

This fear response causes changes in your body so that you can either fight the danger or flee from it.
WHAT IS A FEAR RESPONSE ?
When the body recognises a threat and feels fear, adrenaline is released and floods through the body, causing:
Reaction You will notice
Faster breathing so that oxygen is drawn into the body Chest pain, dizziness
Faster heartbeat - blood is pumped faster to supply your muscles Fast, thudding heart beat
Blood directed to arms and legs and away from skin, fingers, toes Cold feet, fingers, clammy skin
Muscles tense up in readiness for movement Aches / pains trembling / tension
Sweat glands work overtime because of increased activity in your body Feeling clammy / sweaty
Digestion and salivation slow down because they waste energy that is needed elsewhere Dry mouth, nausea
Brain is racing, and focused on the danger and the need to respond Feeling keyed up and apprehensive
Pupils open up to let in more light Visual disturbances
These reactions are good and necessary if there is a real, physical threat, as they will enable you to cope with the threat in an appropriate way. If there is a real, physical threat, these reactions are not a sign of things going wrong, but of your body coping with the threat.
There is no difference in effect between a fear response and a panic attack. The difference is in the trigger. A panic attack is a normal healthy fear response that is triggered at the wrong time.
WHAT CAN TRIGGER A PANIC ATTACK?
The threats that trigger a panic attack are generally psychological threats - fear of looking an idiot, fear of having to talk to people etc.. At this time, the fear response is not useful, but our bodies may not recognise the difference between a physical and psychological threat.

Psychological threats come from inside us, caused by our thoughts and assumptions i.e.
fear that something will happen that we perceive will hurt us in some way
thinking that something bad will happen - worst case scenario
expecting that something will go wrong
All these can trigger an inappropriate fear reaction i.e. a panic attack and the fear of having a panic attack can, in itself, ensure a panic attack

The physical sensations caused by the panic - which in themselves can be frightening - can then confirm our fear, and generate more fear - and so on and so on.
STRESS AND PANIC ATTACKS
When we are under stress our tendency to panic may be heightened. e.g.
General anxiety or tension
Other emotional states - worry, anger
Physical changes that cause changes in heartbeat, breathing etc.
Physical illness and/or pain
Hunger (low blood sugar)
Tiredness
Drugs, including caffeine, nicotine and alcohol Constant monitoring for symptoms, or triggers, of panic
HOW CAN I HELP MYSELF?
Understand what is going on, and the reasons for panic attacks
Self-talk - explain the reasons to yourself- use positive statements like `I have had interviews before', ' I can do this'
Learn strategies to deal with situations that you know you find stressful e.g. public speaking, doing exams
Cut down on caffeine - a black coffee or cola with caffeine, will raise your heart rate, and so wind you up rather than calm you down
Smoking will cut down the amount of oxygen getting to your lungs ands so increase the likelihood of a panic attack Low blood sugar puts your body under stress and so increases the likelihood of a panic attack. Eat regularly, especially complex carbohydrates like bread, pasta, potatoes
Learn to relax
Practice '7:11' breathing (Breathe in for a count of 7. Breathe out for a count of 11 )
WHAT CAN I DO IF I FEEL A PANIC ATTACK STARTING ?
Self-talk (see above)
In your head, recite a nursery rhyme, times tables or any other slow rhythmic words that help to slow you up
Visualisation - imagine yourself somewhere else, look at the details of your imaginary place - and enjoy the dream
Sip cold water
Have some fruit or a starchy snack
Breathing exercises - 7:11' works every time

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