Panic attacks are terrifying. Your heart starts thrashing fast, you can’t breathe, and it feels like you’re going to die. Panic attacks are unexpected, intense episodes of fear that can make you shiver, shake, sweat, and feel highly anxious.
As scary and rare as they sound, they are actually common. You might not even know, but your loved ones may be experiencing their own traumatic episodes that they feel ashamed to talk about. In the United States, around 6 million adults, which accounts for 2.7% of the population, have been experiencing panic disorders.
According to the stats, women are twice as likely to have panic disorders as men.
Don’t Confuse Panic Attacks with Anxiety Attacks
They may sound similar, but they’re not. Anxiety attacks involve a number of common psychiatric disorders, but when you talk about panic attacks, they are more challenging and have physical symptoms, such as nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and a racing heartbeat.
Anxiety attacks can range from mild to severe, and they can even happen in the back of your mind while traveling to work or getting onto a stage to perform. However, panic attacks involve severe, disrupting physical symptoms. Your body may go into the fight-or-flight response, and you can lose control of yourself. Panic attacks can happen abruptly, while anxiety builds up gradually.
Panic attacks may occur due to several reasons and to anyone. Here are some of the primary causes that you should know about:
While some mental health issues can run in your family, it’s still unclear why some family members experience panic attacks, and others don’t. A study suggests that panic disorders have a genetic factor, and there are 40 different genes linked to panic disorders connected to your body’s neurotransmitter system. The “COMT” gene tends to be the most strongly associated with panic disorder. This gene encodes a vital enzyme (protein) that affects our cognitive capacities and behavioral control.
Work, school, health, family, social life and stress have been some of the most prominent reasons that can cause panic attacks. Whether it’s minor stress gradually draining the life out of you, or a major life change, such as financial insecurity causing distress, anything can trigger a panic attack.
While there’s no fixed cure, it’s essential to exercise self-care and develop good coping mechanisms for managing stress.
Traumatic Life Events
Panic attacks are often connected with major life changes and traumatic events, such as family conflicts, physical assault, or the death of someone close. Whether it’s a newly emerged problem or has happened in the past, traumatic experiences can quickly become a problem if left unaddressed.
Events that involve getting in touch with individuals linked with your past event can activate your emotions, causing panic attacks.
A cup of hot black coffee might be someone’s usual start to the day, but for others, excessive caffeine intake can cause heightened anxiety and panic. Caffeine leads to racing heartbeat, alertness, and pressure. If your body is not used to taking huge amounts of caffeine, and your intake surpasses 200 mg, it’s more likely to increase the likelihood of anxiety and, at extreme, panic attacks.
Cocaine, benzos, marijuana, and heroin all can generate psychosis, affect your brain, cause stress and anxiety symptoms. Some people use drugs to cope with stress and anxiety, while others have anxiety that causes them to self-medicate with substances.
A panic attack is more likely to occur when someone suffers from withdrawal symptoms. If you’re looking to address addiction, anxiety, and panic attack symptoms, you can opt for co-occurring symptom therapy.
Some Tips to Stop Panic Attacks
Learning the symptoms of an oncoming panic attack may not address the root of the issue but can help you manage it better. Here are some ways that can help you prevent a panic attack.
- Deep breathing exercise – You’ll be able to control your breathing and experiences less hyperventilation. Shallow breathing can make the PD symptoms worse.
- Recognize that you have a panic attack – remind yourself that this is temporary, and it’ll pass, and you’re completely fine. This may take away the fear and let you focus.
- Find focus objects – The best helpful strategy is to feel your senses and focus. Breathe and look around you, name five items, and describe the colors, patterns, and shapes. It’ll divert your mind and focus your energy on the surroundings, alleviating the symptoms.
- Picture your happy place – Visualizing imagery can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Feel the relaxation by thinking of your dream destination, maybe a cabin in the mountains or a quiet beach with only the sound of splashing waves.
- Repeat your mantra – Whenever you have panic attacks, reassure yourself it’ll be okay and say a self-affirming phrase. It can be “I can manage this” or “Everything will be okay,” or “It’s almost over.” Repeat it on a loop slowly.
When Should You Get Help?
If you’re having persistent panic attacks and are afraid of when the next will happen, get in touch with a professional doctor or a therapist.
While sharing your emotions, thoughts, and personal life can be emotionally draining, try not to feel anxious or ashamed. If you experience frequent and unpredictable panic episodes and worry or fear about having more attacks, you may have panic disorder.
At Houston OCD Counseling, we’ve got the right therapy specialists who can carry out an assessment and create a tailored treatment plan to manage your symptoms and reduce your panic attacks.
Overcoming your fears is the real power! So change your life today!