My breath stops, it seems that my heart will jump out of my chest, I feel dizzy, throws me into heat or cold. Have you ever experienced something like this? All these are symptoms of a panic attack, an acute reaction of experiencing anxiety or fear.
About how often panic attacks occur, why they appear and whether it is possible to cope with them, says Ekaterina Milushina, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, specialist in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.
Read hear: Expert Opinion: 5 Facts About Panic Attacks
1. Panic Attacks Are Not Uncommon – Facts About Panic Attacks
A panic attack can occur anywhere – at work, in a store, in a subway car or your kitchen. According to statistics, every fifth person on the planet experienced any symptoms of a panic attack. People of both sexes and almost all ages suffer from them: from adolescents to the elderly.
Expert commentary: Of course, not everyone who has experienced a panic attack at least once becomes ill with panic disorder, that is, begins to experience attacks regularly. However, panic disorder is quite widespread, according to various sources, it affects 2-5% of the population.
My experience shows that recently the disease is getting younger, schoolchildren of early adolescence 11-13 years old are increasingly seeking help.
2. Some Factors Increase The Likelihood Of Panic Attacks
Indeed, people experiencing panic attacks often grow up in hyper-custody families. Senior family members try to protect the child from any difficulties, at the same time instilling in him the idea of, the dangers of the world. Another risk group is families with unpredictable behaviour who use drugs and alcohol.
Expert commentary: In general, the panic disorder affects anxious people, with beliefs in their weakness and vulnerability, as well as a sense of hostility to the world around them.
3. People Suffering From Panic Attacks Suffer From Fears
The most common concerns among these patients are the fear of dying from a heart attack or stroke, the fear of looking ridiculous or inadequate; the fear of going crazy or behaving wrong.
Expert Comment: It is worth noting that the symptoms and sensations during the attack always coincide with the leading fear.
That is, if a person is afraid of a heart attack, he will feel tachycardia and discomfort in the heart, and if the main concern is madness, then there will be symptoms such as derealization and depersonalization.
After the infamous, widely covered in the media situation with the nanny who cut off the child’s head, there were more cases of mothers turning to fear to harm their children and fear of being alone with them. They complain that they feel somehow changed, not like usual – they feel depersonalization.
These women think that the symptoms are evidence of their inadequacy and ability to harm the baby. In reality, these symptoms are caused by fear, the woman completely controls herself (and does not feel any desire to hurt her beloved child), and the child remains completely safe.
4. You Cannot Die From A Panic Attack
It seems that the symptoms of a panic attack are so scary and painful that it can lead to death. This is not so – in spite of the suffering that they cause, one cannot die from a panic attack.
It is also impossible to ignore panic attacks (and it is unlikely to succeed). The situation may worsen – there will be a fear of the most panic attack; this condition will occur more often and last longer.
The other extreme is the refusal to visit places where panic attacks occur. In especially serious cases, a person may stop using public transport, go to the store and work.
His world is reduced to the limits of his apartment or even a room, and his circle of contacts narrows to a few people. Gradually, a person loses communication and self-care skills.
Expert commentary: The main deteriorating factor in panic disorder is indeed the avoidance mechanism; if a person follows his instructions, sooner or later, he loses his ability to work and becomes completely dependent on relatives.
That is why, along with coping with fears, a large part of the treatment is training in (scary)places and situations, aimed at overcoming avoidance and expanding living space.
5. Panic Attacks Are Treated
Yes, they can be dealt with. Psychotherapists treat panic attacks, but patients are not always the first to go to this specialist. They take chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms like problems with the heart or blood vessels, and therefore are sent to a cardiologist, neurologist and other doctors.
Often, a person gets to a psychotherapist after doctors of other specialties examined him to no avail, or even after undergoing a full examination with tests and a lot of research.
The patient must himself want to recover, that is, to cooperate with the doctor. In most cases (70%), improvements occur after the first session, and 90% of patients become better after the second session. Further meetings between the doctor and the patient are necessary to consolidate the effect.
Of course, the help of loved ones in such a situation is necessary. Relatives and friends should not laugh at fears, should not discount the emotions of those who experience panic attacks. Saying that you need to “just get together”, “overpower yourself” and “pull yourself together” for patients with panic attacks is useless.
Instead, it’s better to talk about treatment options, help choose a specialist and actively support the desire to cope with the problem.
Expert Comment: panic attacks are well treated. The main thing here is to find the right specialist. The first choice of therapy for treating panic attacks is the cognitive-behavioural approach.
Pharmacological treatment also shows good results. However, most of my clients do not need it, more than two-thirds of the clients who contacted me to recover, without resorting to tranquillizers and antidepressants.