Experiencing panic attacks is an alarming sign and needs immediate attention. Get to know about the common symptoms of panic attacks and how to stop a panic attack when you feel it coming on.
A sudden wave of anxiety and fear, even if there is no sign of threat at the moment, is called a panic attack. It can occur without any warning and leaves a person in a state where he loses control over his body. One can experience it irrespective of the place and time.
It can affect the life of an individual as in that state, one is unable to behave in a normal way as he is struck with severe symptoms of trembling, lack of breath, increase in heart rate, etc. Although the exact reason for this attack is not known, there are certain triggering factors that can increase the risk of panic attack occurrence.
There are many mental health conditions that need to be discussed so that if someone or the person around him lends in such a situation, he does not feel clueless. What are the symptoms that indicate a panic attack, and what should someone do in this situation?
This article covers all the ways through which one can control his panic attack as well as help someone else going through a panic attack, including the reason behind panic attacks, ways to treat panic attacks without medication, and how to stop a panic attack when you feel it coming on.
Table of Contents
Why do panic attacks happen for no reason?
The cause of panic attacks is not related to one factor but the mechanism of the brain, the way our brain responds to certain situations. When a human brain is sensitive and can not control a sort of fear, then a person can go through a panic attack.
There are psychological, environmental, and pharmacological factors involved in causing panic attacks in an individual. Some of the prevalent factors among these three aforementioned spheres of human life are as follows:
Phobia is when a person is fearful of a situation or object, but sometimes a person can have the anxiety of the mere fear of experiencing it in any situation. People having any kind of phobia avoid the situation triggering their fear, but at times their brains create a reaction to an alarming situation even if the object or situation that an individual is phobic to does not occur in reality. This can make a person experience panic attacks.
When a panic attack due to phobia occurs, a person can have sweat, feeling of losing control, numbness and rapid heartbeat, etc.
Stressful life events and emotional instability are the major factors of panic attacks. Stress is a part of everyday life as it helps people meet deadlines in everyday tasks, but if this stress disturbs the peace of your mind, then it starts affecting your mental and physical health.
Stress can nourish the fear network structure within oneself and can result in panic disorder. Early signs of harmful stress are lack of proper sleep and fatigue, and if these signs get unnoticed, then it can further lead to panic disorder.
Low self-esteem affects all the domains of life, be it professional or personal. Low self-esteem can make you feel worse about yourself and build pressure in your mind. The way you view yourself makes up your belief system, and it can spiral into negativity if you keep doubting your abilities. A person having low self-esteem can struggle to interact with people and participate in any social activity, which can increase the risk of anxiety and panic disorder.
Substance abuse problems
Excessive drinking has an effect on your mental health, and if the body is unable to handle the amount of alcohol in your body, it can have a harmful effect on your brain functionality. Alcohol and mental distress are often co-occurring disorders that can affect the daily functionality of the human brain. While a small amount of alcohol makes a person relaxed, heavy drinking can increase tension and cause instant panic attacks.
Alcohol Use Disorder is a chronic brain disorder that can be mild and severe, and it causes dependence on alcohol even if it has visible adverse effects on one’s health. A person loses control of his mind and has negative feelings when he does not drink. These negative feelings can also transform into panic attacks.
A person going through any hardship in the past is more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder or panic disorder because the trauma remains unresolved at the back of his mind and then gets triggered at any certain age. Those emotions remain suppressed in our brains and then afterward morph into anxiety or panic disorders. It is also possible that a traumatic event can cause anxiety and panic at the same time, and that person is required to consider therapy in both cases.
Serious physical illness
A person can have panic attack symptoms because of any chronic disease or any other serious illness, for example, cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart failure, stroke, etc. A person, through physiological diagnosis, can identify if the panic attack is because of any physical illness or not. Once it is diagnosed, it is treated through proper medication, which heals panic attacks as well.
Sometimes mild physical problems can also cause panic symptoms, and if they are not treated on time, they can have long-lasting effects on the person because he becomes over-sensitive to these sensations and ends up in anxiety.
How do you treat panic attacks without medication?
Panic attacks are treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy approved by a professional therapist. However, the treatment depends upon the severity of the case, but medication is not the only way to deal with panic disorder. Here are some ways through which you can make progress in dealing with panic attacks without using medicines:
In this process, a mental health professional helps you overcome your issues. This therapy treatment includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps you talk about the things that disturb you and detangle your thoughts. The professional therapist helps you identify the actual cause or triggering factor of a panic attack, and if it is something in your thought process, he helps you alter your behavior and thinking towards an appropriate state.
Once you become aware of yourself and your triggering factors, you attain control over yourself and gradually put an end to the attack. CBT is not only helpful for panic attacks but covers a wide range of mental problems, including drug use, alcohol abuse, marital problems, eating disorders, etc. It is a clinically practiced and researched approach to treating panic disorder.
It motivates a person, provides a better understanding of one’s self, and activates problem-solving skills in a person so that he can cope with any difficult situation in life. This approach can only succeed with the joint effort of the therapist and client to develop an understanding of the situation and come up with a treatment strategy.
The main idea behind this type of therapy is that if a person’s mind is in his power and he is aware of the functionality of his body, then it becomes easy for him to handle panic attacks. It is a technique that uses electrical sensors to transmit information about your body to you. This way, you can control some of the functionalities of your body. Biofeedback therapy can help you make slight changes in your body according to the requirement of a relaxed and composed body. This can also increase your physical performance and improve your overall health condition.
In this session, electrodes send signals from your skin to a monitor where your inner conditions, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle activities, are displayed. When a panic attack strikes, our body functionalities change, so when efforts are made to calm our body through deep meditation, muscle relaxation, or any other activity monitor screen will view the progress. For instance, if a person’s blood pressure rises during a panic attack, then you inspect if a certain activity can help you lower it back to normal.
This session is conducted under the supervision and guidelines of a professional therapist, but once a patient observes the actions that are helpful to calm his panic attack, he can control it by repeating it whenever a panic attack occurs.
Keep an eye on your diet
Our body needs a certain amount of nutrients and minerals to function in a healthy way. If you deprive your body of any of the required nutrients, then it produces harmful changes in your body, and the immunity of your body decreases, as a result of which the risk of a panic attack increases. You should make sure that no such thing is entering your body which weakens your immune system.
Although many people drink alcohol to calm their minds and body, it has negative effects on the human body as it makes it weak and an easy target for panic and anxiety. People who quit drinking alcohol tend to improve their anxiety and panic symptoms in a better way. Another harmful consumption is caffeine, which is common among the majority of people as caffeine speeds up the activity of our brain and body. Caffeine, compared to alcohol, is less harmful, but excessive caffeine can increase the risk of anxiety and stress.
Some substances, such as fats and sugars, are essential requirements of the human body, but if consumed in an excessive manner, they can also have negative effects on the body and make the physical symptoms of panic attacks worse. You should include more protein-based food in your diet and make sure that your body does not lack the necessary nutrients.
What do panic attacks feel like?
When a sudden wave of fear or panic strikes a person’s mind having several physical effects as well, then this state is called a panic attack. There might not be any evident or immediate fear, but the mind triggers your body, and you feel abnormal changes in your body. It creates a sense of fear in a person, and if the fear is not controlled in an appropriate manner, then this person can develop panic disorders.
The situation or environment might not be threatening, but because of an underlying mental disturbance, the person starts panicking, and it can attack at any time, irrespective of the environment. When a panic attack strikes a person, he can sweat, shiver, breathe heavily or have a heavy heartbeat. The conditions may vary from person to person because every single human body functions in a different way.
A person goes through many conflicts in his life, so when a conflict attacks his mental health, the risk of panic attacks arises. People of any age can go through a panic attack and are not restricted to a specific age, gender or condition. However, youngsters between the 15 to 25 age group tend to suffer more from panic attacks. Among all these people suffering from panic attacks, 31.9% of adolescents between the 13 to 18 age group are affected by anxiety disorders that require proper treatment.
How to help someone having a panic attack?
It can be terrifying and worrisome to witness someone close to you experience a panic attack. As panic attacks can occur suddenly without any warning, in such a situation, it can be difficult to help the person if you do not have much knowledge about the condition. Here are some of the ways through which you can help the other person going through a panic attack:
Know about the panic attack signs
There are some visible physical sensations through which you can identify if the other person is going through a panic attack. These signs include shortness of breath, trembling with fear, unable to move, etc. The sooner you realize that a panic attack has occurred, the faster you will be able to help them.
Although there can be no threat in that situation, the person going through a panic attack will be terrified. Their condition can make you feel clueless and afraid, too, but you need to ensure that you are relaxed so that the person feels less stressed and can rely on you. The tone of your voice and actions should be calming.
Offer them help
Although a panic attack lasts for 20 minutes, it can be difficult for them to communicate and ask for help in that situation; you should ask them yourself what you can do to make them feel better. If it is someone closer to you, then you should ask them in advance about what makes them feel better and relaxed, but if it is a stranger, you can gently ask them about what they want at that moment.
Help them with actions
The most important thing is to focus on their needs. Different people conceive it differently and receive it differently; for instance, some people feel claustrophobic, and they would want to go to an open place where they can breathe. Some people want to behold that moment so they can hug the person who will relax them at that moment, and some people are unable to move at that moment, so you can help them sit so that they can feel relaxed.
Bring a pet
If you are with a person in a situation where he is under a panic attack, you can bring a pet near him. Petting an animal increases the dopamine and serotonin level in your body.
Encourage them to seek help
If someone close to you is having panic attack symptoms but is not getting any professional treatment, then encourage them to consult a therapist or physicist. If they are anxious to visit a doctor, you can offer to go with them and also guide the doctor about the symptoms if they miss any.
Be careful with your words
You should use reassuring words to make them feel calm and relaxed, but those words should not sound as if you deny their fear. Using wrong sentences or talking about insensitive things can make them feel worse and guilty. You should make them feel safe with your actions and words so they can feel secure and calm down.
This technique is used to drag people out of their negative emotions during anxiety or panic attacks. Ask the person going through a panic attack about a few things he can touch, hear, see, taste and smell at that moment. You can use it to divert their attention to the present environment.
Ground techniques are not fixed, and you can improvise them. For instance, you can ask them to imagine a few things instead of asking them about the things they can actually see. However, this is a temporary solution and can not be used as a substitute for professional help.
Can you permanently stop panic attacks?
If you frequently experience panic attacks, then it becomes a cycle and is called panic disorder. It is possible to break the cycle of panic attacks, but you can not completely get rid of this disorder. As this disorder varies from person to person and every case has different triggering factors so what works for one person may not be effective for another. For this reason, it is advised to seek professional help in this situation.
A professional therapist will study all the factors of your life and then diagnose your condition. After the diagnosis, he can come up with a treatment plan specially made for your case. It will include positive changes in your lifestyle, behavior, and thought process.
You can not only depend on medication and therapy for your cure as it requires your efforts too. A doctor can suggest the treatment, but it can only be brought into practicality by you. If you learn to manage your disorder, then the panic attacks can be controlled to the extent that they will no longer confiscate your life.
Many people can experience panic attacks in their life, but if it frequently occurs in a severe manner, then there is a risk of it turning into a disorder. There are some physical symptoms that can hint at the severity of the attack. These symptoms get triggered because of several reasons, and one person’s triggering factors differ from another person’s triggering factors. There are some general measures that work for everybody and can help you deal with stress management, develop problem-solving skills, and cure the occurrence of panic attacks so that it does not become a disorder.
One can experience it anywhere, be it a crowded place or an isolated one so learning how to help people around you deal with this condition is as important as it is for someone going through it. However, it is advised to seek professional help if someone is dealing with panic attacks in a frequent manner. It is not promised to completely prevent this condition, but with the combination of therapies and medications, one can fight against it and live a healthier life.