Have I ever told you that I used to have panic attacks? No? Well, we’ll fix that today.
Everyone experiences them a little differently, but they all suck the big one. This is what mine look like: Intense fear, feeling like the world is about to end, feeling like I’m “losing it,” hyperventilating, sobbing, and a very strong and rapid heartbeat.
Panic attacks are, in fact, pretty scary. The thought that you’re “going crazy” or feeling like you’re dying both feel like the end. They both feel entirely out of control, because they are.
I am SO GLAD I rarely have them anymore.
THE FACTS ABOUT PANIC ATTACKS
Most people do not have panic attacks, and that’s a good thing. But nearly 10 million Americans will have a panic attack in any given year. That’s a lot of people. And they’re about twice as common in women as in men.
It’s not uncommon for someone having a panic attack to go to their local emergency room, as an attack can mimic other conditions, such as heart conditions or breathing disorders. They may also avoid certain situations or places for fear of having another attack.
Fortunately, panic attacks are treatable. They’re even preventable. Did you know that? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has several charts you can download and print to help you learn skills and keep track of how well they work here. You may find some of them helpful.
Or you can make your own charts. Make one that describes the situations that make you panicky (triggers) and how intense the feelings are. Add another one where you can keep track of what you did to deal with it so you know what works. Or you could keep a “panic/anxiety journal”, where you can write down the emotions you feel during certain situations or around certain people and identify any patterns. You can actually make any kind of chart you want, as long as you think it will help.
Panic is based in anxiety. The Mayo Clinic has a comprehensive page devoted to panic attacks, including risk factors, complications of attacks, and possible causes.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A PANIC ATTACK
I’m going to assume that you have not gone to the ER after a panic attack. By all means, go if you think you’re having a heart attack or something. But I know for me, I’ve never ended up at an ER because of a panic attack.
Maybe the worst part of a panic attack is that they come without warning and reach peak levels within 10 minutes or less. The good part is that they tend to subside relatively quickly. It may not feel quick, but technically speaking, it is.
I think it’s important to practice some self-care after a panic attack. If you need to take a Xanax or other med, go right ahead (just as long as you take it as directed). Anti-anxiety meds can be life-savers.
You can also do small things to take care of yourself. Sit quietly, listen to soothing music, move your body to get rid of the extra adrenaline running through your body, write about how you feel. Do some meditation or deep or paced breathing. All of these things can help your body realize that the perceived danger is gone and help you calm down.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
Panic attacks suck, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They’re scary as hell and can make you feel like you’re about to die. Luckily, panic attacks are not fatal. 🙂
At one point in my life, I was having panic attacks quite frequently. My depression was pretty bad at the time (which can be a risk factor) and I was under a lot of stress. I actually went to a panic disorders support group through Kaiser Permanente, which helped some. Eventually, my attacks happened less and less, and now only happen in the rare circumstance that I feel my life might be in danger. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often.
If you have anxiety or experience panic attacks, think about getting professional help. A good counselor can help you come up with strategies to identify triggers, lessen their intensity, and even avoid them altogether.
And make sure you’re taking care of yourself. I have learned that if I take care of myself when things are going well, I’m less likely to have an emotional relapse (duh, right?). It’s hard, though – I’m the type who stops taking my medication once I feel better, and it’s the same with emotional things. If I’ve been doing yoga, meditating, talking to my wife and others about what’s going on with me, going to therapy, taking my meds, etc., I tend to think, “Wow, I feel better. Now I can let up on some of these things.”
The problem is that I feel better because I’m doing those things. When I stop doing them, I start to slide. I know this about myself, and yet I continue to do it.
When will life become easy? LOL
Stay strong, Warriors. And remember to Keep it Real! <3
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A version of this post was previously published on DepressionWarrior and is republished here with permission from the author.
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