by Caroline Ravello
Everyone experiences some measure of panic and anxiety. These are mechanisms built into us that allow us to protect ourselves in many instances. Think on it, if you did not have that panic or anxiety “reflex” you would probably have already been knocked down a few times because nothing in you cautioned you about stepping off the sidewalk into the road.
But there is no way to describe an anxiety attack to you if you have never experienced it. If you have not had a panic attack you more than likely would discount every experience I share today, or even disregard someone you are witnessing having an attack because it can all sound and look like dramatics.
I learned this: “The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous but can be very frightening. They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die” (www.nhsinform.scot).
Anxiety and panic attacks are very new personal experiences to me. In recent years, I have had at least two emergency room visits with one ending in brief hospitalisation thinking that I was experiencing some cardiac distress. Anxiety episodes have even caused me to question some incidence in earlier life which were diagnosed as asthma attacks. I recall one occasion, in 2016, when I was agonising about calling an ambulance. That day was my first encounter with what I called an anxiety attack. I was scheduled to attend a class and was feeling a bit off centre while dressing as I had been for about six months or so. When I opened the front door, I froze in deep fear. I cannot tell you what stopped me, but I dared not place one foot outside.
I went back inside and called a friend and could not explain what I was experiencing. My breathing was so laboured I thought I would pass out, so I crawled back into the bed and assumed a fetal position expecting to black out any minute.
Having always used the terms interchangeably, after that day, which ended without too much drama but left me so exhausted I could hardly function, I decided to look up the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks.
I am sharing some of the information today along with some interventions because very often and greater than before these past two-and-a-half years of living through a pandemic, I have been having more conversations with people about coping with anxiety.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) a panic attack is characterised by four or more of the following symptoms:
Feelings of unreality (derealisation)
Feeling detached from oneself (depersonalisation)
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling of choking
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
Numbness or tingling sensations
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing (www.verywellmind.com/anxiety-attacks-versus-panic-attacks-2584396)
Intensity of the symptoms and the length of time are the main differences between panic attacks and anxiety. Anxiety can last for months while a panic attack may last minutes. These are ways in which they differ (www.verywellmind.com).
Lasts for minutes
Shaking or trembling
Sense of detachment
Can last for months
The following recommendations are from the UK’s National Health Service:
If you’re breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
--breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
--breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth
--some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
--close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes. You may feel tired afterwards.
Preventing panic attacks
--Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
--Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence
--Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
--Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking – these can make panic attacks worse.
--Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks