Have you had a panic or anxiety attack?
By Deborah Hillier
Considering the state of the world right now, who does not feel a bit more stressed than usual? I know I have felt more anxious, but what is a panic or anxiety attack? Do you need to see a doctor?
First things first, it is entirely normal to experience the occasional pangs of anxiety because of the pressures of work, school, relationships, money, deadlines, and the uncertainties of life etc. These can cause occasional sleepless nights and overeating.
Rapid heartbeat. If your heart is racing, this is a common symptom associated with an anxiety or panic attack. Most people will feel this in their chest rather than by testing their heart rate via their pulse.
Shortness of breath. You may feel a shortness of breath. If at this point you realise you are panting or taking rapid, shallow breaths, this can be a sign you have a panic or anxiety attack. You may feel the sensation of pressure or a weight on your chest or as if you cannot take a full breath.
What to do: If you experience either of these first two signs, you can counter the symptoms with breathing exercises. First try to concentrate on your breathing, listen to the air flowing in and out of your body. Take deep breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Count each breath in for five and then out for five. Gently slow your breathing.
Tightness in your stomach. Do you have a feeling like a ball or a fist in the pit of your stomach? This uncomfortable symptom of a panic or anxiety attack is physically the same thing which happens in an actual life-threatening situation. As fear provokes our bodies towards a fight-or-flight response to danger.
Dizziness, tingling, changes in blood pressure. Many symptoms of an anxiety attack are due to an increase in blood pressure. As a result, you may experience dizziness or a tingling sensation in your arms, hands, and fingers.
Feeling like you’re losing control. Feeling out of control is something that many people experience at the onset of an anxiety attack.
What to do: If you experience any of these last three signs, in addition to the breathing exercises, you may find it helpful to ground yourself with your sense of touch. Press your feet firmly into the ground for 5 minutes, at the same time squeeze and release each of your muscle groups. Finally, take notice of 5 things in front of you and describe them in detail to yourself or those around you.
Chills or sweating. Getting the chills, shivering, or the opposite, sweating in the palms of your hands, armpits or arms are signs you may be having a panic attack.
Muscle tension. Muscular tightness in your neck, shoulders and upper back can also be signs of having an anxiety attack. It’s not uncommon for people having an anxiety attack to end up in A&E because they think they think they are having a heart attack.
What to do: If you experience either of these last two signs, in addition to breathing exercises and grounding yourself, you can try these simple tricks to help release the tension:
- Open your mouth and wiggle your jaw
- Roll your neck in a circle
- Drop your shoulders
- Soften your forehead, between your brows
You may also like to try this little game to counter symptoms spend a few moments concentrating on your immediate surroundings and then identify:
- 5 things that you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Once the ‘attack’ passed, try to go for a walk or move around, you need to avoid situations that cause you stress or anxiety for a while. Things that cause stress tend to be:
Reading a lot of negative news – so stay off social media and news websites. If you have to use the internet because there is no alternative, go to YouTube and watch a funny animal video or type most inspiring videos and see what comes up!
Caffeine: Don’t drink lots of coffee or tea, try and drink water, decaf, hot chocolate or herbal or a milkshake; there are lots of choices.
Isolating yourself:Don’t go home and shut yourself away and be embarrassed about what happened! Everyone has bad days. Honestly, everyone has had a bad day, what you need now are people, not lots but don’t shut yourself away go for a walk or grab a decaf with a friend and let them know how your feeling.
Drugs, alcohol and smoking: Everything in moderation, same with food, don’t overdo anything at this point just try and take it easy. Spend time with friends or family whichever is the most relaxing, talk and let people know how your feeling.
Sleep and relax – it’s vital to take some time to relax and wind down. Don’t read your phone when you’re in bed, don’t watch TV in bed, don’t go to bed until your tired.
I remember when my son was small, I used to go up to see if he was asleep. He was always awake and would say I’m bored and I would reply, but you’re supposed to be asleep, and he would plaintively wail at me “, but it’s such a waste of the night mummy”!! It’s not a waste; it’s a time for you to heal and recoup and start the day fresh again.
Panic or Anxiety Attack Helpful ways to calm down
*It is important that if you are experiencing chest pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing.
The pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach you may also feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath, excessive coughing or wheezing.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.
Women may be less likely to seek medical attention and treatment quickly, despite the warning signs. This can dramatically reduce your chance of survival.
Rapid treatment is essential, and the aim is to restore blood flow to the affected part of the heart muscle as soon as possible. This helps to limit the amount of damage to the heart.
Learn more about heart attack symptoms.