Surveys suggest that around 20% of the US population will suffer at least one or more panic attacks at some time during a lifetime. It is also reported that around 1.7% has a serious panic attack disorder. Let’s talk about what panic attacks are and how they affect people.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an involuntary reaction to external or internal factors that, if unchecked, can trigger a series of very unpleasant physiological and psychological changes. The first of these changes can quickly create a chain reaction of stronger reactions and sensations.
The odd thing is that these reactions and changes in your body and brain are actually quite normal. What isn’t usually normal is the trigger that sets the chain reaction in motion in the first place.
Fight or Flight
Above I said that the changes brought about by a panic attack or the less intense anxiety attacks, are natural. How can that be? I’m sure most of us have heard the expression 'fight or flight' in relation to self-preservation. When danger presents itself in whatever form our basic natural instincts for survival kick in and, if allowed to they, take control of our thoughts and actions. Actually, it is more our actions that get taken over because in fact the survival instinct is such that it actually prevents you from thinking clearly. This is one of the major problems for panic attack sufferers; you cannot think rationally!
The fight or flight instinct is designed either to get you far away from any imminent danger quickly or to prepare you to fight for your life. There is very little middle ground; it is usually one or the other. Normally, thinking only gets in the way of this behaviour and so your body fills you with adrenalin which inhibits your ability to think clearly because you haven’t time to rationalise the situation.
This is why these attacks or the lesser anxiety attacks can seem so illogical and irrational; you aren’t able to think properly due to the changes in your physiology.
How can you recognise a panic attack?
When you have your first panic attack it is usually a very disturbing experience mainly because you won’t understand what has happened or why. Also, a panic attack can strike at any time and in any circumstance; even when you are enjoying yourself such as having dinner in a restaurant.
Usually the first sign of the onset of an attack is a feeling of nervousness or butterflies in the pit of your stomach and by your heart beat increasing. This is usually followed by dryness in the mouth and a general sense of unease or that there is danger nearby. This is the start of the flight or fight chain reaction.
It is at this early stage that you need to take action to control the attack and learn how to stop it continuing to the more severe levels. As I said before, since your instincts will prevent you thinking logically, you need to recognise the very first signs of an impending attack while you still have control over your thoughts. The earliest you can catch the anxiety feelings the more likely you are to be able to stop the attack.
Do not beat yourself up over it
When you suffer an attack, or you have been unable to control one, please do not beat yourself with a stick over it. Remember that this is your body doing what it does best; keeping you safe. The only problem is it is doing it at the wrong time! This is not your fault and you should not make yourself feel worse by thinking you are to blame.
The important thing is to try to discover the root cause of the first attack and deal with the issues that started the whole thing. Then you can find a way to rid yourself of the problem entirely.