Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are defined by a combination of mental, physical and emotional symptoms or feelings. Typically, these attacks start with a sense of impending doom, dread or fear. Feelings of terror often increase in intensity with the suffering person often experiencing physical symptoms such as: Chest Pain Sweating Sickness / Nausea Dizziness Shaking Breathlessness or Rapid Breathing Palpitations Tinging in the extremities Along side these uncomfortable and terrifying physical symptoms, people are often struggling with intrusive thoughts and emotions. This can result in a person believing they will lose control, have a medical emergency or even die. People who have panic attacks often have no control over when their symptoms will strike and given that these attacks can happen at any time, well wishing people might try and help. Here are a list of things NOT to say to somebody having a panic attack. 1) Just Calm Down Being told to calm down suggests that a person is in complete control of their symptoms, this absolutely not the case. If a person could stop having a panic attack and calm down, they would. Instead, try and calm the person down by implementing a positive coping strategy such as: Deep Breathing PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation Distration techniques, such as guided imagery 2) You have nothing to be nervous More often the person having the panic attack will be aware there is no reason to be anxious. When in a panic attack, a persons flight or fight response is triggered, making their mind and body prepare for a perceived threat. If you reinforce a persons perceived threat is unfounded, you can actually increase their anxiety. Instead, try being a voice of encouragement. Use soothing tones and offer that you are there for them. 3) Telling somebody they are embarrassing you or themselves. A person having a panic attack already feels like everybody is looking at them, many people are already uncomfortable and embarrassed about having an attack in public. Do not be insensitive and focus any more negative attention on them. Try being supportive and offer encouragement such as: I am here for you You are doing a great job You can and will get through this This is not your fault You will help a person feel more confident at their most vulnerable. 4) Stop Overreacting! This goes without saying as a not helpful comment. You will direct more negative emotion towards the person already having a panic attack. Most people suffering with panic attacks are unable to control the emotion, so telling a person to stop overreacting is really not helpful. Instead, try the encouraging comments from point 3. 5) Do not freak out about their panic Getting upset or panicky about a persons panic is not helpful and may make the situation worse. The worst thing you can do is and contribute to the anxiety. Instead, listen to what the person needs and do your best to accommodate. It is possible to take direction from the person themselves. Panic attacks feel different for every person, as a result people need different things to help them cope. Photo by Tonik on Unsplash
Why am I so anxious? Whilst it is normal to feel nervous about important events or life changes, tens of millions of people across the world live with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can vary from GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) - an deep worry that is uncontrollable to PD (Panic Disorder) - panic attacks, heart palpitations, shaking, chest pain, etc. It is important to look in to management techniques to help reduce anxiety in the long term, for example talking therapies or medication. CBT is a common treatment for those living with an anxiety disorder. However, there are things that can be done in the short term to help to relax your mind and help you to regain some control of your emotions. 1) Remind yourself you are okay. Panic attacks can make you feel like you are dying or like something terrible is going to happen. They can even make you feel like you are having a heart attack. If you have been checked out by a doctor and diagnosed with panic attacks, it is useful to remind yourself that "I'm having a panic attack, I am not going to die. This will pass." One thing to remember is that a panic attack is actually the opposite of impending death - your body is trying to escape a dangerous situation (fight or flight), this is the thing that is actually going to keep you alive! 2) Take deep breaths Taking deep breaths can help you calm down. Whilst you may of heard about breathing exercises, the main thing to do is just focus on slowing down your breathing. Really concentrate on taking a deep breath in and then evenly exhaling. This is useful to help slowdown your thoughts. 3) Three things you see Can you name three things you see, three things that you can hear and finally three things that you can smell? Really focus on them. What colour are the objects you see? What do they sound like and what smell do they give off? This helps to distract from anxiety and ground your thoughts, helping trick your mind back to calmness. 4) Go for a walk Sometimes going for a walk can really help clear the mind. This is particularly useful for helping to interrupt your thoughts. Additionally, endorphins released during exercise are excellent at making us feel better about ourselves. 5) Keep away from caffeine and sugar It might be tempting to make a coffee or grab something sweet when you are feeling stressed, but caffeine and chocolate can do much more harm than good. Research shows eating sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead if reaching for that coffee or candy, get a glass of water or something savory - providing slower energy which your body can use to recover.
What does a Panic Attack feel like? This is a difficult question to answer. Why? Because Panic Attacks can feel completely different to everybody. I find when I'm having a panic attack, I get a crushing pain in the center of my chest, I find it very hard to breathe, pain radiating out in to my arms and jaw. I get dizzy, can't focus and get extreme tingling in my extremities. It is quite literally debilitating and quite frequently stops me completely in my tracks. Sometimes the only way I can bring myself back down and in to reality is to go to the hospital and have them assure me I am not having a heart attack. Unhealthy? Yes. Long term solution? No. Only way I can manage? Yes someimes. There are many different causes of panic attacks and they are different for everyone. When you are feeling scared or anxious your body releases stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol, which can be helpful in some situations. Other times, this can result in physical symptos such as a rapid heart rate, perspiration, rapid breathing or shortness of breath. Some common symptoms of panic attacks can include: Chest pain of discomfort. Rapid breathing or shortness of breath. Dry mouth. Tingling in the extremeties. Digestive problems, such as a sudden need to use the bathroom. Feelings of impending doom, or like something terribe is going to happen. Dizziness Feelings of detatchment or disassociation. If you know the cause of your panic, it may be easier to find management tools. For example, your panic could be triggered by: Difficulty in relationships, divorce or abuse. Pressure in the workplace, unemployment worries or retirement. Heath worries, including chronic conditions or sudden illness or injury. Past experiences such as abuse, neglect or bullying. Financial worries, such as mounting debt, unexpected bills or difficulty repaying loans. Sudden change in circumstances, such as having a baby, a wedding or buying a new home. Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate to people the reasons why you feel this way, but talking really does help to find management tools.
I am a man and I have anxiety. This does not make me less of a man. It is okay if you have ever: Felt so worried you cancelled plans Cried out of fear Had a panic attack Worried about what people think about you Rang in sick to work because of Anxiety. This does not make you less of a man. It is okay to vulnerable. We must speak to break the stigma surrounding mental health in men. Though there are many people with Anxiety, it can often be men who struggle to reach out for help. Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation revealed Suicide is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom for 20 - 34 year olds and is considerably higher in men. Three times as many men take their own lives each year. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50 in the UK. We must speak about mental health, particularly with our men. Check in, make sure everybody is alright and knows you care. Sometimes that conversation can really be the difference between life and death.