VALDOSTA – Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but for some people, anxiety is more than just butterflies in the stomach and sweaty palms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 18.1 percent of the nation suffers from an anxiety disorder.
Unfortunately, only 36.9 percent of these people receive treatment for their anxiety, which leaves millions of people suffering in silence.
Struggling with anxiety is scary enough, but some people also experience panic attacks. These intense episodes of fear are debilitating and accompanied by both emotional distress and physical symptoms. Learning about panic attacks can help you get a better grasp on your anxiety.
If you’re reading this because a friend to family member is suffering from panic attacks, this article will help you get in their headspace and provide comfort during their scariest moments.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a sudden onset of extreme fear, anxiety and discomfort. They can happen after a long period of anxiety or strike out of the blue, and continued episodes can increase anxiety by making sufferer’s fearful of having a panic attack in public, at work or around their loved ones.
Signs of a Panic Attack
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides a list of common panic attack symptoms. Learning to identify these symptoms in yourself and others can make you more equipped to handle them when they arise.
– Rabid heartbeat or palpitations.
– Trembling or shaking.
– Feeling of choking or suffocating.
– Numbness and tingling (paresthesia).
– Fear of dying.
– Fear of losing one’s mind or feeling like you’re “going crazy”.
– Feeling of detachment from reality (derealization) or detachment from one’s self or body (depersonalization).
How to Prevent Panic Attacks and Manage Anxiety
The first step toward preventing panic attacks is to identify personal triggers and symptoms. Understanding the signs of an oncoming panic attack will help you stay in control during an episode.If you suffer from panic attacks, you might develop what is known as “anticipatory anxiety”, which is anxiety about having a panic attack or feeling anxious. You may also develop phobic anxiety, which causes you to avoid social situations where your anxiety might flare up and lead to a panic attack that embarasses you or makes you feel trapped.Some ways to combat panic attacks include:
– Deep breathing.
– Practice mindfulness (focus on the present, acknowledge your anxiety).
– Relax one muscle of the body at a time.
– Focus on a specific object in the room.
– Repeat a personal mantra.
How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack
Watching someone lose control during a panic attack can be just as frightening as having one. It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s also important to support your friend or family member during this time. First, take a deep breath so you can remain calm and centered. Speak evenly and in a soothing tone, but don’t confine the person or try to hold or hug them unless they ask you. Most people having panic attacks feel trapped, and pinning them down (even in an embrace) can make them feel worse.
Instead, tell them to focus on you and your voice. Acknowledge their fear. Don’t tell them it isn’t real; anxiety is real and feels real to anyone experiencing it. Lead them through several deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then, have them identify five things they can see. Next, five things they can hear. After that, five things they can smell or touch. This process will help “ground” them to the present and refocus their spiraling thoughts.
If someone is especially panicked, continue to lead them through breathing exercises. Asthmatics may need their inhaler if they hyperventilate, but do not force anyone to respond, speak or do anything during a panic attack. After a few minutes, the attack will begin to subside and they will be more coherent. Patience and serenity are key.
If your panic attacks have become extremely frequent, worsened your anxiety and led to a total aversion of social situations, speak to a local mental health professional. A psychologist can help you develop a working strategy to combat your anxiety and prevent further attacks. If you have an anxiety disorder, a psychologist can refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe you medications to accompany your treatment.
The worst thing about anxiety is the helplessness it brings. But you aren’t helpless in getting help, so don’t be afraid to reach out when you need it and get your life in control again.