Your heart is racing, threatening to leap out of your chest. Everything around you seems surreal, and you feel like you’re completely detached from the world. Your throat starts to feel restricted and you hyperventilate, trying desperately to breath.
If you’ve ever been in a situation like the aforementioned one, chances are you’ve experienced a panic attack. A panic attack is an abrupt episode of intense fear or panic. During such an episode, a person might experience shortness of breath, hyperventilation, a choking feeling, shaking or trembling, a racing heart, chest pain, and a feeling of detachment from surroundings. During a panic attack, a person might think they are having a heart attack, or that they are dying. They may also think they are going insane. Usually a panic episode doesn’t last more than ten minutes, but this is not always the case. If someone has repeated panic episodes it is likely that they have panic disorder.
Causes for these random onsets of intense fear are not known. Some people may be more biologically susceptible to panic attacks. Hereditary factors may play a role since panic disorder sometimes runs in families. Panic attacks, as well as panic disorder, can also be triggered by major life stressors. These include things like the death of a family member, a marriage, financial upheaval, or having a child. People with panic disorder are also more likely to be affected by depression and substance abuse.
Even though the causes for panic disorder and panic attacks are not known, there are many treatments for these ailments. The first available treatment is medication. There are several different types of medication that can be useful. Anti-depressant medication can be prescribed as well as anti-anxiety medication. Anti-depressants like Prozac can reduce the amount of panic attacks a person has as well as the intensity of them. These medications are not used for relief during an actual panic attack. Medications that will help during an episode are sedative type anti-depressant medications such as Xanax or Klonopin. These medications are usually not prescribed for long term usage. There are also treatment options that don’t involve medication. These include cognitive behavioral therapy as well as meditation and relaxation strategies. If you know you suffer from panic disorder or if you aren’t sure, consult a doctor. This way you can get a diagnosis and also find out what steps you can take to reduce or eliminate your panic attacks.
Lastly, here are a few tips that might help reduce general anxiety that can aggravate and increase panic episodes. Don’t be hard on yourself. People who are perfectionists or people who heavily criticize themselves often have panic attacks. Take it easy, and appreciate yourself. Getting involved in relaxation techniques can really help as well. Go use a hot tub or learn how to do breathing exercises. If you’re a big coffee drinker, cut back a little. Stimulants aren’t a good thing for anxiety. Just like with caffeine, the same goes for nicotine. In conclusion, consulting with a doctor to work out an effective treatment plan and making small lifestyle changes to help you relax can make a huge difference.