By Aisling O’Connor
This edition’s ‘Mind Your Mental Health’ deals with panic attacks; what they are, how to deal with them, and what to do if someone you know has one.
Panic attacks occur when our bodies respond to fear in situations where there is no threat. The adrenaline released causes the “flight or fight” instinct to kick in, and the person suffering experiences at least four of the following symptoms: increased heartbeat, chest pain and tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, shaking, nausea, headaches, hot and cold flushes, dizziness, numbness and/or pins and needles.
Panic attacks often bring a feeling of impending doom, death, and loss of control or a detachment from reality. The peak time is at about 10 minutes into the attack, and they usually last between 20-30 minutes. If it feels like the attack is longer this may be another attack following the first one.
So, this leads us to the question of what to do if you experience a panic attack. Once again, An Focal’s got you covered:
- Focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose slowly, hold your breath for a moment and release it through your mouth slowly. Divert your attention to the air going in and out of your lungs and the mere action of breathing. Avoid quick, shaky breaths and gasping for air if you can.
- Avoid stimulants. The key here is to try to relax, so stay away from coffee or energy drinks.
- Get some air. If you can remove yourself from the situation you’re in go outside and sit down somewhere away from people or enclosed spaces.
- Vent. Describe how you’re feeling, both physically and mentally, to a friend.
- Drink water.
- Accept what you are feeling but don’t punish yourself for it. You can’t stop yourself from having a panic attack but remember that you are in no immediate danger.
- Make yourself aware of your surroundings. Make note of what you see.
If panic attacks are a persistent thing I’d advise getting in touch with a doctor or counsellor.
If a friend has one:
– Try to understand how they feel. You might not understand why they are fearful but avoid saying the likes of “stay calm”.
– Don’t leave them alone.
– Get water.
– Help them focus.
– Avoid towering over them as this can be intimating. If they’re sitting down stoop to their level and speak gently.
– Don’t touch them unless they’ve said it’s okay. Some people may welcome hugs in situations like this but for others this could make them feel suffocated.
– Reassure them that they are in no immediate danger.
Panic attack symptoms can be similar to those of a heart attack, so if you feel that someone you know is experiencing something more sinister than a panic attack don’t hesitate to call an ambulance.