My father struggles with panic attack disorder, and it’s painful to see him fight with it. In the beginning, especially at night, he would pace back and forth in the house and cry that he felt “empty in the head.” Sometimes, he would tell my mom and I that he felt tingling sensations in his legs and he was unable to stop fidgeting. Right now, he’s doing better, but he ended therapy, which is super unfortunate. I dedicated this post to my father.
What is a Panic Attack?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack is an intense fear and discomfort that reaches its pinnacle within minutes and includes at least four the following symptoms. These symptoms are:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
- Trembling and Shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or stomach pains
- Feeling light-headed
- Numbing and Tingling sensations
- Derealization (Detachment from self)
- Feelings of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
Some people experience limited-symptom panic attacks, which are similar to full-blown panic attacks except it consist of fewer than four symptoms.
The Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack
Many people use anxiety attack and a panic attack interchangeably. There are many similarities, but subtle differences. The most noticeable differences are the intensity and the duration of the attack. Panic attacks have a sudden onset, and anxiety attacks are a gradual buildup. A panic attack usually subsides within minutes, but an anxiety attack can be persistent and last from days, weeks, and months.
The Unpredictability of Attacks
The irritating part about panic attacks is that they can occur when an individual is calm or when they are in an anxious state. Although a panic attack is the main component of a panic disorder, it can occur in the context of other psychological disorders. For instance, a person who has OCD can have a panic attack if they are unable to engage in a ritual or compulsion.
Suggestions to Center Yourself When You Have a Panic Attack
Here are some tools you can use when you have a panic attack.
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Tell yourself to stop when your thoughts are spinning out of control. Then organize your thoughts and decide what you need to do to get yourself calm again.
- Think about the times you were able to manage situations and reduce anxiety.
- Stand up for yourself and tell someone you need to leave a situation.
- Anxiety causes muscles to tense up. So make the conscious effort to relax each muscle from head to toe.
How Do You Help Someone with Panic Attack Disorder?
Here are some ways you can help someone who has a panic attack disorder.
- Tell them that everything is going to be okay. Anxiety can start one of the most intense responses a body can make. So when a loved one is experiencing high stress, telling your loved one that everything will be okay may help them calm down and decrease the strong responses from the body.
- It’s important to stay calm yourself and be an example for the person experiencing a panic attack.
- Encourage him or her to seek professional help. As much as it’s important to be empathetic and understanding if they aren’t helping themselves, then being empathetic can lead to enabling. If they decide to seek mental help, be supportive of their decision.
- Express to your loved one that you’re available to talk to if they need anything. Also, be free of judgment when your loved one speaks to you about their issues, even if it sounds like a broken record.
- Learn everything you can about panic attack disorder, then help your loved one by providing information, support, and hope.
Anxietycentre.com. (n.d.). 15 Ways To Help Someone With Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-tips/15-ways-to-help-someone-with-anxiety-disorder.shtml
Panic attacks and panic disorder. (2018, May 04). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
Rodriguez, D. (2009, June 02). How to Handle Panic Attacks. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety/how-to-handle-panic-attacks.aspx
Understand the Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
Illustration by James Barkman via Flickr. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode