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  • Writer's pictureAnna McDonough

Panic Attacks: What they are and What to do about them

*Only a professional trained in recognizing and treating mental health diagnoses is qualified to diagnose someone, including yourself, with a mental health disorder. This post is for educational purposes, not for self-diagnosis. If you feel like you may struggle with this issue, seek out a qualified professional for clarity and help.*

Suddenly, out of nowhere, your heart starts to race, you get really hot, you start to sweat, you can hear your heart beating, your vision changes, you feel like you are going to pass out…

You want to leave the room to get some air, but you can’t. You feel trapped. You just sit and wait. Then, after what seems like an eternity, you start to breathe again, and your heart slows back down. You can see clearly, and you aren’t dizzy. You might be thinking “what in the world just happened?!”

What are Panic Attacks?

A panic attack is experienced by approximately 4.5% of adults at some point in their lives and often the individual has no idea that is what they just went through.

The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has defined a panic attack as: An abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering

  • Feeling of choking

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, unsteady or faint

  • Chills or heat sensations

  • Numbness or tingling sensation

  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself

  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”

  • Fear of dying

What causes panic attacks?

Some panic attacks have obvious triggers, such as a stressful job or relationship, medical or health related issues, social situations, phobias, reminders of a traumatic experience, or even caffeine. Some panic attacks stem from an underlying anxiety disorder and the connection can be harder to recognize. These can feel especially scary because they seem to come out of the blue with no warning and no explanation.

What can you do?

As soon as you feel like you are experiencing a panic attack do the following:

  • Slow, deep breathes. The slower and deeper, the better. Your body needs all the oxygen it can get. Try to breath all the way down into your belly, not just shallow chest breathing.

  • Close your eyes (if you safely can) and focus on your breathing. Pulling your attention away from your other symptoms can help you gain control of your body.

  • Acknowledge what you are going through – give it a name and remind yourself that it will pass, and it won’t kill you. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not scary or uncomfortable, but you can wait it out.

If you continue to have panic attacks, seeking professional help is important so you can learn ways to manage, reduce, or even get rid of them. Contact Anna McDonough by emailing to get started!

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