We all panic from time to time. When you realise you've left your phone on the bus or you suddenly remember this morning's deadline at work. But what if you're overcome with panic for no apparent reason?
Panic disorder (the name given to panic attacks) is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to a stressful event. If you've ever had an attack, you'll be familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms - sweating, a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, and a feeling of deep fear or nervousness.
During an attack the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, and over time, you can develop a fear of having another panic attack, which can affect the way you function day to day and your quality of life. Severe anxiety is believed to affect one in every 20 adults in the UK at some time in their life, and panic disorders in particular is twice as common in women as in men.
We spoke to Anna Williamson, TV presenter and ambassador for mental health charity MIND, about how she learnt to cope when she developed panic disorder seven years ago,.
'Panic attacks feel like the most scary and debilitating thing, and suffering one truly feels the worst thing ever, but it doesn't have to ruin or control your life,' she says. 'Anxiety is a natural and necessary emotional response, and one we must all have, it's just that in some cases, like mine, it can get too over active and the need to look at triggers and treat the symptoms necessary.'
Anna saw a counsellor and had alternative therapies such as hypnosis and CBT, as well as short term medication. 'Learning about myself and what triggered the attacks was key,' she explains. 'There IS help out there, and trust me, you're not alone. Don't suffer in silence, talk to a friend or family member, or Mind charity, about how you are feeling and ask for support to help you overcome your panic attacks and anxiety.'
Here Anna shares her advice for coping with a panic attack.
When you feel anxiety, or panic, building up, try to combat it by slowing your breathing down, which will in turn lower your heart rate. Breathe in through your nose slowly and deeply for 5-6 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for the same time. Repeat this five times.
2. Feel safe
A common reaction to a panic attack is the 'fight or flight' response. If you need to take a few minutes to get yourself together and enable the attack to pass, do. Identify somewhere that you feel safe to do this – it could be the bathroom, your parked car, or a room in your house.
Panic attacks can be really isolating, it can feel like the loneliest time, even if you have loads of people around you. Identify someone you can trust to tell what you're experiencing, and how you're feeling, and allow them to help support you and give you the time, space or attention you may need.
4. Identify the triggers
Have a think about when you get panic attacks, is there a particular time of day or circumstance when they occur? Is there anything you could change to help cope or avoid them? Sometimes the build up to a situation can accentuate an anticipated attack, or even too much caffeine or nicotine, for example, can add to anxiety build up. Identifying any patterns in when you have attacks can help in finding ways to cope with them.
5. Face the fear
Panic attacks, no matter how awful they feel won't kill you. Fearing the panic attack can often cause the condition to worsen and indeed trigger them more creating a vicious cycle. When you feel an attack coming on, front it out by almost saying to it 'go on, do the worst, I'm ready for you'. It sounds odd, but by taking control of the attack, letting it happen and then passing, can help you break the fear cycle and hopefully reduce the frequency.
Mind ensures no one has to face a mental health problem alone, Visit www.mind.org.uk or call 03001233393
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