HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where your heart is racing, palms are sweaty, and you feel like you’re going to pass out?
Perhaps you’ve seen a doctor about it and found out there was nothing physically wrong? Or perhaps you’re wondering if you need to see a doctor?
You might be experiencing a panic attack. If that’s the case, educating yourself on what they are and how to stop them is of great importance. Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and can cause great distress in people’s lives.
Did you know that panic attacks are quite common? According to the Victoria State Government’s Better Health Channel, up to 35% of the population experience a panic attack at some time in their lives.
So the more you understand about panic attacks, the more equipped you’ll be in managing them.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an accumulation of terrifying physical and emotional symptoms in the absence of serious danger, and can occur completely randomly or in a specific situation (eg. public speaking or driving a car).
It can be caused by a single event, but it’s more often due to a number of factors like family history, chronic stress, medical conditions, mental health, personality traits and medication/drugs.
The main differences between anxiety and a panic attack are subtle. With anxiety, you fear something may happen and the anxiety builds up gradually; whereas with a panic attack the fear is more immediate and extreme – and you fear that something terrible is going to happen.
Imagine an alarm system in your brain that is created to sound an alert when there is imminent danger. In situations where there is no physical danger, it is often an accumulation of stressors and your thought processes that have formed the sense of danger in your mind. You might then set off a false alarm in your brain that can leave you feeling terrified, confused, and loaded with frightening symptoms.
This alarm system is often referred to as the “fight or flight switch” or the “stress response” and is designed to protect you from external danger. When activated, it floods the body with adrenaline to build strength and energy to fight or flee a dangerous situation.
Whilst the stress response is an important part of human survival, the brain doesn’t always differentiate between external danger (eg a wild animal about to attack) or internal dangers (eg fear-based thoughts/worries); it just responds to high levels of fear/stress in general.
These days, the stress response is more commonly activated due to internal dangers. We often have higher stressors in our everyday lives and worry-based fears than in the past. These are often caused by the media we consume; whether it’s the news channel highlighting the negative and terrifying things in our world, or social media portraying what we should and shouldn’t be doing etc.
Deepening your understanding about your specific situation and fears, and learning how to overcome the stress response is very important.
Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the key cause of your panic attack, but learning to identify the signs and symptoms and seeking professional support is beneficial.
There are many physical and emotional signs/symptoms that are associated with panic attacks, including:
- Sweaty palms
- Racing heart
- Dizzy or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Sense of choking
- Chest pain / tightness in chest
- Nauseous / vomiting
- Tightness in stomach
- Emotional distress / crying
- Feeling detached from reality / separate from oneself
It’s important to note that each person’s stress response can be experienced differently; ranging from one symptom to multiple.
Can a Panic Attack Hurt You?
A panic attack is terrifying and extremely unpleasant, but it will not harm you, nor is it dangerous. Although, given the long list of symptoms above, it’s no wonder we often believe something more sinister could be happening.
It’s not uncommon for people to seek medical advice following a panic attack, and then later learn from scans and tests that their experiences are actually psychological in nature, not physical.
If you’re struggling with panic attacks, seeking professional support and treatment is vital to recovery. When left untreated, panic attacks can lead to higher levels of distress and become more debilitating.
If you would like to discuss your specific situation, feel free to contact me on 0404 032 636 for your free 15 minute consultation.
You can read part 2 of this series on “6 Ways to Stop Panic Attacks” here.
Do you need Counselling Support?
If you need counselling support, contact Kylie Lepri for a FREE 15-minute phone call to discuss your situation and find out how she can help. Call us now on 0404 032636 or book your free phone call online.
Kylie Lepri is a registered Psychotherapist, Marriage & Relationship Counsellor, and Clinical Supervisor. Since 2003 she has helped individuals and couples work through life stressors, develop new goals and create better relationships. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter here.