All things considered, our bodies are good at a lot of things. We can subconsciously sense danger and we can subconsciously respond to that danger to stay alive. People have been known to lift cars in extreme situations.
While our bodies are great at a lot of things, sometimes they misfire. Many people experience a sense of danger while there is actually no threat whatsoever.
This is what anxiety is—a physiological response to a threat that isn’t present. Panic attacks are an extreme outburst of anxiety.
What Does a Panic Attack Look Like?
Panic attacks are sudden bursts of fear or anxiety. They usually come with intense physical and psychological symptoms.
Some people can internalize their symptoms and minimize the panic. But most will cry, scream, and have to leave the environment they’re in.
These symptoms usually last around 5-20 minutes, but someone might feel a heightened level of awareness and anxiety for a time after the panic attack.
In some cases, the physical symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense that the person will need to go to the hospital.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
While many things can trigger a panic attack, sometimes it seems like nothing caused them. In some cases, anxiety builds up over time and “explodes” as a panic attack.
Psychologists generally consider trauma a main cause of most panic attacks. Trauma is any event that impacts an individual’s sense of control and ability to process that experience. Someone might experience a panic attack after getting in a car accident. The experience of living through a potentially life-threatening event can cause panic.
Unexpected deaths are another example of traumatic events that often cause panic attacks. Traumatic events don’t need to be life-threatening, just difficult and impactful.
Triggers are things that remind us of traumatic events. It could be seeing a certain person, being back in a similar environment, or witnessing something similar to the traumatic experience. Triggers cause flashbacks, which are vivid memories of the trauma attached to intense emotions. These flashbacks can lead to panic attacks.
Triggers aren’t always obvious. Panic attacks can be seemingly unconnected to the environment or events that are happening. Discussing and resolving trauma with a therapist can help you identify triggers and cope with them.
Who Is At Risk for a Panic Attack?
Everyone will likely experience a panic attack at least once in their life. Traumatic experiences don’t always cause lasting strife, but they bring out intense, frightening emotions when they happen.
However, many people will experience many attacks over their lifetime.. Anyone could experience a panic attack, but people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety disorders will usually experience panic attacks as a symptom.
Individuals with PTSD
People who live through a traumatic event are at risk of developing PTSD.
Individuals with PTSD experience a high level of fear regarding their trauma—fear that it will happen again or a fear that they’ll feel the same way as when it happened. A symptom of PTSD includes flashbacks that lead to panic attacks.
Individuals with Panic Disorder
Panic disorders are defined as having frequent panic attacks without any triggers. People with panic disorder don’t experience typical triggers. Instead, the fear of having a panic attack could be enough to cause one.
This disorder is different from other anxiety disorders. Instead of symptoms compounding into a panic attack, the main symptom of panic disorder is having a panic attack.
Other Anxiety Disorders
People with generalized anxiety disorder are more likely to have panic attacks because of their heightened levels of tension and fear. Anxiety can create a compounding effect that can eventually turn into a panic attack.
Other anxiety disorders that are related to specific triggers can also cause panic attacks:
Panic attacks can happen quickly and randomly. You could be trying to fall asleep, hanging out with friends, or watching a movie. In some cases, they kick in fast, and the fear takes over.
However, you can look for signs that you need to take action. Pre-panic attack symptoms can include:
Flashbacks caused by a trigger
When these feelings start, it’s hard to stop them. But you can do things in the moment to decrease their intensity
When It’s Happening to You
When you experience a panic attack you may feel like you can’t breathe. Some people hyperventilate and others take shallow breaths. This slows blood flow and is what causes the tingly feeling most people experience in their limbs.
Do Some Breathwork
During this time, it’s important to slow down your breathing and focus on breathing deeply. Breathing exercises will not only improve your blood flow but will give you something to think about other than the panic.
People who are experiencing panic attacks are often swept away in their emotions. In this state, it’s hard to find the ground. Practicing mindfulness during a panic attack can help ground people and bring them back to reality.
During a panic attack, focus on your senses. Find five things you can see, touch, and hear. This will focus your attention on your immediate surroundings and take your attention off your panic.
Panic attacks are scary, and practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness is easier said than done. However, the more you practice the better you’ll be at managing your symptoms.
Move Your Body
Another thing you can try is movement. Forcing your body to move vigorously can release tensions and return your body to regular functions. Try different movements including:
Shaking off your limbs
Stomping in place
Burpees or other physical exercises
As you try out these methods, take note of how you feel. What works for someone may not work for someone else. Learn what works best for you.
When It’s Happening to Someone Else
When someone you love is experiencing a panic attack, it’s natural to want to help in whatever way you can. However, there are some important things to remember while helping someone through an attack.
Change Their Focus
Don’t tell this person to relax. In the moment, it feels like that’s simply all they need to do. However, telling them to relax focuses their attention on the feelings of panic. Instead, turn their attention to their surroundings and their breathing.
While helping someone through a panic attack you need to stay calm. If you begin to panic this will only exacerbate your friend. Instead, use low, quiet soothing tones.
Sometimes a change of environment is necessary to give someone experiencing a panic attack the space they need to properly ground themselves. If you’re in a loud or stuffy place, go outside and give them space to breathe in the fresh air.
Stay With Them
Remind them that they are not in danger. While panicking, the fear is winning. They may need to be reminded that the panic they are experiencing is only temporary. Let them know you’re right there with them and stay with them the whole time.
Breathe work is always helpful during a panic attack. If you find yourself helping someone through a panic attack, walk them through some breathing exercises. This can give them a “goal” to think about as they match your breathing.
During the whole process make sure you’re encouraging them. As they do breathing exercises with you, remind them of how good of a job they’re doing.
Call Inner Balance if Panic and Anxiety Are Taking Over
Panic attacks are a common side effect of being a human. It’s normal for people to have them on occasion. However, for some, they can create a lifelong debilitating battle.
If panic and anxiety are taking over your life, it’s important to seek help. We can help resolve trauma, lessen the grips that your triggers have on you, give you tools to help you manage your symptoms, and treat its cause.
Panic attacks are awful and scary. Being equipped with tools can help you come out of them sooner and reduce how many you have. Seek help today and start feeling better.