According to researchers, panic attacks are a fairly common phenomenon and about 10% of people experience a panic attack at least once in their lifetime. A study conducted by the Lithuanian Students’ Union (LSS) in February – “Psychological Status of Students and Assistance” – which aimed to assess students’ psychological status and the factors that led to its changes, found out that almost every third student experiences panic attacks. This suggests that panic attacks are a common problem currently faced by a large proportion of students. Therefore, it becomes particularly important to know how to recognize panic attacks and how to help yourself, what to do during them, and how to avoid them.
Panic attack – what is it? How to recognize?
A panic attack is a sudden attack of fear and anxiety that occurs without a cause, causing physical and psychological symptoms. The physical symptoms of a panic attack can range from a strong and frequent heartbeat, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, tremors, nausea, irritability, numb limbs, tingling, chills, or, conversely, hot flashes. During a panic attack you can experience such psychological symptoms as: strong, paralyzing fear of horror that you will suffocate, die, go crazy, lose control or something terrible will happen, a feeling of detachment and detachment from reality, a desire to escape from the situation. Seizures usually last 5 to 20 minutes. and in rare cases, it can last up to an hour.
What are the causes?
Panic attacks can be caused by a variety of causes: a change of routine, depression, severe lifelong experiences, prolonged stress, physical health problems, frequent use of alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine, as well as the use of some medications. Heredity and childhood experiences can also cause panic attacks.
How can I help myself?
It is important to keep in mind that by changing your lifestyle practices, people who experience panic attacks can learn to deal with them, learn ways to help calm down during an attack, and reduce the number of such attacks or prevent them from recurring in the future. However, it is important to keep in mind that if panic attacks continue to reoccur and become more frequent, you should consult your healthcare professional, as without treatment they may worsen, progress to mental disorders, and it is important to assess the physical condition and make sure that panic attacks do not start.
Often the sensations experienced during panic attacks are misinterpreted, which can only further intensify and prolong the duration of a panic attack. So first of all, I would get acquainted with the information about panic attacks, what signs show that I will experience a panic attack, what is happening in the body during them. It is especially important to know and remind yourself during panic attacks that it is just a panic attack, that during it I will not die and will not go crazy, that this state will not last long.
Assess what is currently causing you the most stress in your life. Make a list of situations, worries, or challenges that stress you out. By knowing the stressors, you can prepare for these stressful situations, think about how to behave in them to reduce or avoid stress. While knowing what is causing you stress and learning to manage it, chances still are that panic attacks will not go away, but it can help reduce the frequency and intensity of them.
The use of these substances promotes the onset of panic attacks. It is recommended to avoid not only tobacco products, coffee, alcoholic beverages or energy drinks, but also sweetened carbonated drinks, black and green tea, chocolate. Other stimulant products should be avoided, such as cold medicines, slimming medications.
Regular physical activity such as running, swimming, cycling, skiing, dancing can help reduce the number or severity of panic attacks. Even walking during an anxiety attack can be beneficial as it helps to get out of a tense situation, and the rhythm of walking can help regulate breathing. In addition, hormones called endorphins are released during movement, which helps relax the body and improve mood.
During panic attacks, breathing often becomes more frequent, it becomes irregular, shortness of breath begins, dizziness and chest tightness can be felt. Deep breathing exercises can help relieve these sensations and help calm down during a panic attack or when you feel it approaching. Free apps in Lithuanian, English and other languages can be found on the Internet to help you learn deep breathing techniques. Example: Ramu (in Lithuanian), Breath Ball (in English). Or, you can try to learn to do this breathing exercise: count to 4 and inhale through your nose, when the breath reaches its highest point, hold your breath for 2 counts, then do a slow exhale (through your mouth), counting to 6. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
When experiencing panic attacks, the environment often seems changed, unnatural, and the alienation of one’s feelings, thoughts and actions is experienced. Exercises during a panic attack can help us return to reality. You can start practicing attentive awareness by doing this exercise: close your eyes and breathe at your usual rhythm through your nose and just observe your breath as you count your inhalations and exhalations. Inhale with 1, exhale with 2, inhale with 3, and when you reach 10, start again. If you notice that your thoughts are getting lost somewhere, return your attention to your breathing. At the end of the exercise, thank yourself for every time you managed to catch the lost attention and bring it back to your breathing. When you are ready to finish the exercise, open your eyes.
If you suddenly feel a fast heartbeat or other physical sensations that tell you that a panic attack is imminent, you can go for a walk, you can turn your attention by calling a friend, getting organized, or engaging in other activities that are pleasing to you. Also, you can try some attention-grabbing exercises. You can start counting back from 100 by subtracting 3 (100, 97, 94, etc., up to to 3) from this number. Counting at random intervals helps to focus and ignore the disturbing thoughts that may arise when a panic attack begins. Another slightly more complex exercise you can try is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Starting back from 5, use all your senses to list the things you notice around. You can start by listing the 5 things you see, then try to distinguish the 4 different things you hear. Then tap on 3 things and notice their texture, how it differs. The following are 2 things you can smell. Finally, focus on the taste of 1 thing, you can pay attention to what the taste is in your mouth or have candy and focus on its taste.