Most experts define a panic attack as a sudden onset of intense fear, unlike a condition like general anxiety, which usually manifests itself as almost constant worry.
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People who suffer from panic attacks feel overwhelmed by mental and physical symptoms, which may vary from person to person. Their hearts may race and pound, they may feel like they can’t breathe, their limbs may shake or their chests may feel tight, and some may have the sensation of drowning.
Some people who experience panic attacks may suddenly feel hot and sweaty, others feel like they have chills. And then there is the agitated and destabilizing fear. In the throes of a panic attack, a sense of loss of control over mind and body emerges. Something similar to having a heart attack or feeling like you are about to die.
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“Anguish, etymologically comes from ‘narrow’, since at the moment of the anguish attack the respiratory tract narrows, which causes difficulty breathing,” the psychoanalyst doctor explained in dialogue with this medium. Juan Eduardo Tesone (MN 44190) and added that “during the panic attack the person has a sensation of suffocation, which in extreme cases generates intense fear and the experience of imminent death.”
Most people who have regular panic attacks do not experience all of these symptoms, but they may have many of them. However, a small subgroup of people have panic attacks with limited symptoms, in which three or less.
And, almost as suddenly as panic attacks appear, they usually dissipate. Symptoms appear within ten minutes and usually disappear within half an hour, although some people may experience lingering effects. However, the experience can be traumatic, and people who suffer from panic attacks may begin to fear sensations that remind them of the symptoms, such as getting out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. They may also avoid anything that reminds them of the episode: the store where their heart was pounding, the food they were eating when they panicked.
“Those who have panic attacks cannot be left alone, because from the moment they experience the first attack, their behavior changes completely; they avoid places where they suffered the crisis, they try not to carry out the action they were carrying out when the panic manifested itself; In short, his behavior is limited and his life is restricted to the point of isolation, ”he indicated to infobae the graduate in psychology Gabriela Martinez Castro (MN 18627).
Some people can develop panic disorder, which psychologists define as repeated, unexpected panic attacks that interfere with daily functioning. Although an estimated 15 to 30% of people will experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime, only 2 to 4% will develop a panic disorder, said Franklin Schneier, co-director of the Panic Disorders Clinic. Anxiety from the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
A subgroup of those people – about one in three – also develop agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that may involve extreme fear of crowded or public places, public transportation, standing in line, or leaving home. This can occur when people become intensely fearful of places where they have had panic attacks in the past.
A series of stressors events – such as traumatic events, financial worries, or even public speaking – can trigger panic attacks. But they can also occur of form unexpectedwithout a discernible trigger.
When people experience intense stress, the sympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that triggers what psychologists call the “fight or flight” response to the perception of danger, is activated. The body releases chemicals like epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which cause our hearts to race, our pupils to swell, and our skin to shed sweat.
Another network of nerves, called the parasympathetic nervous system, returns the body to its original state. If it doesn’t kick in after a while, a panic attack can suspend a person in that heightened state of arousal.
Many researchers believe that panic attacks can occur when the brain it is not capable of correctly sending messages between the prefrontal cortex, associated with logic and reasoning, and the amygdala, which governs emotional regulation. During a panic attack, the amygdala is overactive, while the prefrontal cortex is less responsive, sending us into a spiral.
Anyone can have a panic attack. However, the risk is higher for adolescents and people in their 20s. If you haven’t had a panic attack by age 45, you’re less likely to have one later.
Women are more than twice as likely to have panic attacks as men, but researchers aren’t entirely sure why this disparity occurs.
If you’ve never had a panic attack, and you feel chest pain and shortness of breath, it’s a good idea to go to the emergency room to confirm that you’re really having a panic attack, rather than a heart problem. But if you’ve had one in the past, and find you’re starting to have another, these tips can help ground you in the moment.
It may be helpful to practice these coping strategies in advance, so you can use them the next time a panic attack occurs:
– Talk to yourself
Reminding yourself that it is possible to survive panic attacks and that, scary as it is, panic itself is not dangerous is key.
– Know who to call
A trusted friend or family member can help reassure a person when they feel a panic attack coming on. Just talking to someone about what she is experiencing, and naming the sensations running through her body, can help her stabilize in the moment.
– Count colors
Some therapists recommend a simple grounding exercise: counting and naming the colors around you. Saying each of them out loud, or simply writing them down in your mind, can help distract you from the anxiety building up in your mind.
– Drink something cold
Reaching for an ice cube or putting a cold, wet washcloth on your wrist may work. Cold shock can help you focus on the present; this also helps relieve the uncomfortable heat and sweating that some people feel during panic attacks.
– Breathe like a baby
Hyperventilation, a common feature of panic attacks, can make people feel dizzy, so breathing slowly can help.
Often, adults breathe from the chest; instead, it may help to breathe from the diaphragm as a baby would, focusing on the expansion of the belly. This can slow and deepen our breathing, flooding the brain with oxygen and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps signal that we don’t need to fight and reduces anxiety levels.
If a person experiences recurring panic attacks, they can go to a therapist. Forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a clinician encourages you to question the fears and feelings you may experience during a panic attack, can be one of the most effective treatments. The process can help change thought patterns, desensitizing us to the underlying distress that can trigger panic attacks.
Some medicinesincluding antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can also be helpful in managing them.
As disconcerting as they can be, it’s important to remember that they are highly treatable, and as suddenly as they appear, they begin to disappear.
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