The Reality of Panic Attacks
What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?
Imagine it's a regular day. You have just gotten home from work after 9 hours. Your family is home with you, and you've just sat down at your kitchen table.
All of sudden you begin to sweat. It's not a particularly hot day, and you were comfortable just 5 minutes ago. You begin to sweat, and then you notice that your head hurts. Not horribly at first, just a small throb. Then it grows.
Next, your stomach starts to do backflips. You haven't eaten anything since lunch so you can't figure out why your stomach is tossing around. Then, out of nowhere, you can suddenly hear your own heartbeat in your head. It's pounding and getting faster.
You start to feel a tingling in your hands and feet. It starts at the tips of your fingers and toes and works its way completely through to your hands and feet. You go to stand up to try and get a grip on yourself but when you do, dizziness hits and you almost feel like you might pass out right where you stand.
All these symptoms are happening together, and in your mind you start to convince yourself you are having a heart attack. You are going to die. You feel it, you know it. In your mind right now no one can convince you that you're not going to die. You are completely certain. These thoughts send your pulse racing even faster, and you're practically dripping sweat by this point. You are so scared that someone drives you to the ER.
By the time you are called back to be seen by an actual doctor, all these feelings have passed as quickly as they came, and you are informed your vitals are perfectly fine. The EKG is perfectly normal. Other than perhaps being a little shaken up, you are told you are completely fine. You may have just experienced a panic attack.
Signs of Panic Attack
If you experience one or more of these symptoms you may be heading into a full-blown panic attack. Not everyone will always experience each symptom in the exact same way.
- "Racing" heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror or impending doom or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeling a loss of control
During the onset of a panic attack your brain is not functioning in the normal logical way that you're most likely used to. People will try to help you during this time. They will try to calm you and tell you constantly that 'You are okay,' 'You are not dying', family especially will try everything they can think of.
Anyone who has never experienced a panic attack, however, can never understand how intense the experience actually is. Any rational thinking has gone out the window during that time. There are no logical thoughts anymore. The only thought that is prevalent is the thought that your life is ending.
When you are in your right mind, take the time to explain this to family members. Remind them that they won't be dealing with the 'you' they are used to dealing with. You may not remember half of what they are saying or doing during the throws of a panic attack. Remind them to try and be patient with you, speaking slowly and kindly, and offering assistance where they can.
What Can You Do?
Unfortunately there is no direct cure for panic attacks. There are many different prescription medications that can calm the symptoms and calm your body during the onset of a panic attack but no direct cure.
For those people like myself who didn't want to have to take something every time you felt a panic attack coming on there are a few things you can try.
The Best Advice I Ever Received
During one of my attacks a doctor in the ER gave me some of the best advice I've ever received as far as panic attacks go. She told me that panic attacks last 20 minutes. That's it. Only 20 minutes out of your life. That's the average. Overall they never last more than 30. Granted, this is all in her opinion and experience. I do not claim to be offering any real medical advice, but in her lifetime and experience she has not seen panic attacks last any longer than 30 minutes. She advised me that when I was in the throws of an attack to count. The brain can only handle so much during an attack and as I've mentioned previously most of the logical and rational thinking is nowhere to be found. Counting, though, that is something that can be done during a panic attack. Continuously explain in your mind that this attack will not last longer than 20 minutes and then you count. Count to 60 twenty times and you should feel your panic attack dissipate. This is a trick that has truly worked for me time and time again. Just knowing in my mind that in 20 minutes this feeling will be gone, and I will return to my normal self is enough to keep me focused on that exact moment and my mind rational enough to simply count the minutes away. Furthermore, the majority of my attacks have gone by the time I reach no more than 10 minutes in the counting process. I know it sounds simple and childish but if anyone reading this does experience attacks, give it a shot.
Another option is to meditate daily. I've heard from many people that this works immensely well for them. They are able to keep their minds calm constantly. Other people have recommended cutting down or completely cutting their bodies off from caffeine or cigarettes. Any stimulant can increase the risk of panic attacks.
I've Been There, Too
If you are a victim of panic attacks, remember, you are not alone. This topic may not be considered very serious by some but for those affected it can have a tremendous effect on your daily life. There was a time in my own where I basically became a hermit. Constantly afraid to leave my house. I was scared to drive anywhere because 'What if I have an attack?' It became a constant fear in my life. I have since conquered the worst of them. I haven't had an attack in over a year. Rely on your friends and family for help, talk to your doctor, in detail, take whatever road medicinally or otherwise to take care of these pesky leeches on your life. It gets better!