What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an intense, sudden rush of fear, terror, and other negative emotions and typically last from 1 to 10 minutes. It can happen without warning, in response to an actual or imagined threat. They can strike anyone at any age and in any situation.
The term “panic attack” was coined in the mid-20th century by Dr. George Miller of UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry. Though he initially used the term “psychosomatic illness,” he later expanded his definition to include subjective experiences of anxiety or fear that may occur without an identifiable external stimulus.
Why do people have panic attacks?
Although it is not clear why some people experience panic attacks, there are many reasons why they may occur. These include:
Anxiety – Anxiety causes the body to release adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone). Adrenaline raises blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate in an effort to increase physical efficiency when faced with danger. People who suffer from anxiety often feel more vulnerable than others who face similar situations because their anxiety makes them feel as though they are not able to control the situation (e.g., during a public speech).
Stress – Stress causes the body to release cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Cortisol increases blood sugar levels in order to provide glucose for energy production and also triggers insulin release which regulates blood sugar levels by converting glucose into glycogen (which is stored in muscle cells).
This sudden change in emotion causes you to feel like you are going crazy, while at the same time your body may go into overdrive with all kinds of physical symptoms such as:
- Nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Chest pain or tightness that feels like a heart attack (palpitations).
How to handle a panic attack
- Tell to yourself that it will pass. The fear you are feeling is not real, it is not a sign of anything harmful happening.
- Ride out the attack. Don’t let it freeze you. Keep doing things. The fear will subside.
- By riding it out and it subsides, it will show you that nothing bad is going to happen.
If you’re breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
- Breathe in as slowly, deeply, and gently as you can, through your nose.
- Breathe out slowly, deeply, and gently through your mouth.
- Some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes, though may feel tired afterward.
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