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Without Warning – Understanding Panic Attacks

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The sudden onset of a panic attack can literally bring you to your knees, and leave you wondering why it happened – and if it might happen again. One famous person who has dealt with them is singer Ellie Goulding. Recognising the symptoms of a panic attack and how to mitigate them can help. 

The feeling of panic is primal, overwhelming and disorienting — a biological alert that something is terribly wrong and to change course accordingly. For some of us, panic can arise unexpectedly, and without a clear reason. Panic attacks can make you feel like you are totally out of control, and they may be so alarming that you are prompted into seeking immediate medical attention. 

While panic attacks typically dissipate without any lasting physical impacts, it is normal for you to feel anxious about the thought of a re-occurrence, and repeated episodes can create serious disturbances to your daily routines. Fortunately, treatment has proven effective in coping with panic attacks.

Panic Attacks: What They Are and What Causes Them

A panic attack is a sudden bout of intense fear or discomfort that results in severe physical symptoms. Panic attacks often occur unexpectedly, without an obvious trigger or threat. You may also experience nocturnal panic attacks, where you are woken up in the middle of the night by your symptoms.

Exact causes of panic attacks are not yet understood, but studies suggest that they could have links to genetics, stress levels, differences in brain function, or individual sensitivities to negative emotions.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

The physical symptoms of a panic attack can be extremely uncomfortable and frightening, and many people will seek out medical attention as a result. These symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Tightness in your throat
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Strong feelings of doom, fear, or danger
  • Feeling out of control, or like you may die

Symptoms typically are most intense for about 10-20 minutes then gradually subside. Experiences with panic attacks can vary widely from person to person.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

Some people will experience just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, but others will have recurring episodes, which often suggest the presence of a panic disorder. Panic disorders usually develop in a person’s mid-teens or twenties, and are characterised both by repeated panic attacks, as well as a persistent fear or worry of experiencing another attack. If you have had four or more panic attacks, and are consistently concerned about having another panic attack, you may have a panic disorder.

Strategies to Shut Down a Panic Attack

You are out and about as usual – at the grocery store, in school, at work – and you suddenly feel as if the walls are closing in on you. To help alleviate a panic attack, there are a few immediate steps you can take to help calm your body’s response. These steps include:

  1. Remind yourself that what you are experiencing is a panic attack – acknowledging to yourself that this is a panic attack, that it is not lethal, and that it will pass is important in removing the accompanying fear of injury or death 
  2. Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths – shutting out any external stimuli and being conscious of your breath can help stop hyperventilation and the feeling of suffocation that can accompany a panic attack
  3. Focus on an object or your immediate surroundings, or repeat a phrase or mantra – honing in on mundane or familiar details can help ground you and reassure your mind that you are not in any danger

Successful, Popular, and Plagued by Panic: Singer Ellie Goulding Shares Her Story

Panic attacks can happen to anyone, even when things seem to be going otherwise well in life. When Ellie Goulding experienced her first panic attack, she had several hit songs under her belt and a promising career, but was also feeling the pressures of fame. Like many people, her symptoms came suddenly and unexpectedly. She told Cosmopolitan:

“One day after a shoot I was on a train going to a funeral and my heart was pounding; I thought I was having a heart attack. When I got to Cardiff, the next train was cancelled, so I had to get in a cab with strangers to Hereford. I was so scared I reached over to this woman and said, ‘I think I’m dying.’ I called a friend to take me to hospital, where they told me it was just a panic attack. From that day, I kept having them. It was the weirdest time of my life. Sick, horrible things would go through my mind but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself… It got to the point when I couldn’t even get into the car and go to the studio. Then I went to see an amazing woman to have CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy], and she flushed everything out. It took a lot of going back to my childhood…”

Goulding also credits fitness training for helping her to manage anxiety and panic attacks, explaining to Well + Good, “[Exercise] wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger. It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise—however you like to work out—is good for the soul.”

Treatment Options for Panic Attacks

If you have recurring, unexpected panic attacks, it is possible that you have a panic disorder. Treatment can help you learn how to manage this disorder with the aim of reducing the occurrence of attacks and the severity of the symptoms. Some treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this longstanding therapy helps people identify their core beliefs and behaviours in order to better understand themselves and the impacts of their actions. Used with a variety of mental health conditions, including panic disorder, CBT helps to manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.
  • Stress-relievers – wellness practices like fitness training, yoga, and mindfulness meditation can help reduce the onset and severity of symptoms triggered by stress, and improve overall mental health
  • Lifestyle changes – creating consistency in everyday life seems to be linked to a reduction in panic attacks. This can include maintaining a regular schedule and getting enough sleep, and also eating a healthy diet and avoiding stimulants like caffeine.

Restoring Calm at The Dawn Mental Health Retreat

The Dawn mental health retreat aligned our effective treatment programme with the wellness activities to help you calm and cope with panic disorder.

Recurring panic attacks can you leave drained, anxious, and hesitant to live your life to the fullest. At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab, we offer highly personalised, attentive mental health treatment to help you overcome your symptoms and reclaim your life. Our unique “Twin Pillars” approach to mental health seamlessly blends effective psychotherapies with proven wellness practices for holistic healing and long-term positive impacts for your mental and physical health.

Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help put your mind at ease.

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