Panic attack or anxiety and phobias should be treated like any other physical illness. No stigma, no shame, just clinical treatment.

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Have you ever felt a wave of panic wash over you for no apparent or obvious reasons? Have you felt unexplained anxiety taking over and even feared that you will develop the panicky feeling if you go into a similar set-up?
That feeling of loss of control with no apparent trigger is a panic attack. But it takes ignoring repeated panic attacks for it to turn into a panic disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, not everyone who has panic attacks has panic disorder — and here’s a clinical feature to note about this mental health issue that you need not feel ashamed or stigmatised about.

How is a panic disorder diagnosed?

Tick or strike out the following checklist:

  1. The feeling that you are not in control, strikes often. Fear and restlessness stab often. You have frequent, unexpected panic attacks.
  2. At least one of your attacks has been followed by one month or more of ongoing worry about having another attack; continued fear of the consequences of an attack, such as losing control, having a heart attack or “going crazy”. You have begun to notice that you are not the same happy-go-lucky person you once were, there is a marked change in your behaviour, such as avoiding situations that you think may trigger a panic attack.
  3. Though you are not using/abusing psychedelic drugs or other substance use, and do not have a medical condition, or another mental health condition, such as a social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic washes over you often.

If you have panic attacks but are not diagnosed with panic disorder, you can still benefit from treatment. Do not sweep them under the carpet, thinking time will cure them or get dragged to a so-called godman who will “cure” you magically and divinely. While we do not argue about the powers of the divine, one certainly cannot replace the need for medical assessment with divine blessings. So get to the doctor and/or psychotherapist first.

If panic attacks aren’t treated, they can get worse and develop into panic disorder or phobias, warns Myo Clinic. Treatment can help reduce the intensity and frequency of your panic attacks and improve your function in daily life. The doctor and psychotherapist can collaborate and decide on a treatment regimen of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) plus/or medicines.

The main treatment options are psychotherapy and medications. One or both types of treatment may be recommended, depending on your preference, your history, the severity of your panic disorder and whether you have access to therapists who have special training in treating panic disorders.

What is CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

The mental health interventions involved in CBT can be categorised as either:

Cognitive therapies: This method involves identifying and disrupting beliefs that cause the negative mood or anxiety that triggers panic attacks and educating patients to understand their panic attacks and put psychological distance between themselves and their experiences.

Behavioural therapies: These can involve relaxation techniques, practising how to navigate potentially triggering situations, and exposure therapy, in which a patient is safely guided through a direct or visualised experience of a potentially triggering situation.

Steer clear of home remedies for panic disorder:

Do not self-diagnose and treat with medicines that worked for someone else and have been passed on by friends and family. They may mean well, but the brain’s mix of chemicals is in a fine, intricate and delicate balance – not to be dealt with by amateurs.

Only your doctor can determine if you have panic attacks, panic disorder or another condition, such as heart or thyroid problems, with symptoms that resemble panic attacks.

The doctor may even ask you to undergo certain tests like a full body check-up, blood tests to check your thyroid and other possible conditions and tests on your heart, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

If you have been through a bereavement – the death of a loved one, a pet, been through a divorce, parents’ separation, witnessed or undergone domestic violence, bullying and have fears or concerns, stressful situations, relationship problems, situations you may be avoiding, and family history — all this will be evaluated in a psychological assessment.

No one is sitting there to judge you – only to help you come out of the tricky situation.

Treatment options for Panic attack patients:

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): The first port of call for a panic attack patient should be CBT – a hands-on approach that requires both the therapist and the client to be invested in the process and willing to actively participate. The therapist and client work together as a team to identify the problems the client is facing, come up with strategies for addressing them, and creating positive solutions, reports PsychCentral. CBT doesn’t have to go on for years. It can last anywhere around 5 to 20 sessions, though occasional follow-up sessions can be useful. Your therapist may work with you to create a maintenance plan to keep symptoms at bay when you’re no longer having regular sessions.

2. Grounding Techniques: When a patient feels the spiral of a panic attack beginning, grounding techniques can help him or her take control of the thoughts and put psychological distance between self and what he or she is experiencing. It is like recalibrating your misbehaving compass. Grounding is simply the action of positively affirming what is known, constant, and real about a situation. This technique helps you to develop skills to draw a clear line in the sand around what is unknown, transient, and imagined. Afterall, the jumble in the head is what is causing all the cascade of untamed thoughts. This redrawn mental boundary stops the individual from becoming overwhelmed and effectively contains the influence of a panic attack to within that boundary.

3. Journaling: Can you think of anyone more in peril than the littke 13-year-old Anne Frank who perished in the Holocaust of WWII? The teen used this technique which is but a way to gather about one’s moods and thoughts. A CBT journal can include the time of the mood or thought, the source of it, the extent or intensity, and how we reacted, among other factors. A journal is like a wall that only listens, never blurts out to others. Your purpose of pouring out is served. This technique can help us to identify our thought patterns and emotional tendencies, describe them, and change, adapt, or cope with them.

4. Breathing techniques: For thousands of years – the Yoga and Ayurveda experts of India practiced and perfected the art of controlling health, illness and the mischievous mind through simple control over breath. They called it Pranayam – exercising the breath – that is often call Praan meaning life itself. In contrast, breathing exercises are a tool your client can use to control their mental state by controlling their physical state. Long breaths – breathe in and breathe out in a relaxed, calm manner – have the potential to alter our health inside out. There are many ways to relax and bring regularity to your breath. You can use guided and unguided imagery, audio recordings, YouTube videos, and scripts. Bringing regularity and calm to your breath will allow you to approach your problems from a place of balance, facilitating more effective and rational decisions, says a report in Positive Psychology.

5. Muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique by which a person distracts oneself from anxious thoughts by directing their focus deliberately toward his or her body. This exercise is a fusion of the ideas behind the grounding and breathing exercises described earlier in this article, using the body as a focus to distract and calm the mind. Lie down in a comfortable position and then systematically tense and relax the muscles in their body, step by step, starting at the feet and extending upward to the face and head, before passing down through the arms to the fingertips. Hold the tensed part for 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat with another part of the body.

6. HEPAS or healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep: First and foremost, when you thinks about relieving anxiety, you should think of the acronym HEPAS: healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep. Food and nutrients – especially the electrolyte balance in our body – can decide whether we are happy or unhappy, well or unwell. So can sleep deprivation or proper sleep. And of course, exercise is essential. The cornerstones of relieving anxiety are removing the negative physiological states that can cause it, such as fatigue, hunger, and lack of nutrition, and embracing positive physiological states that improve our mood, such as the warm glow following exercise and fresh air and the feeling of improving our physical health.

The Bottom Line:

A panic attack can seem the end of the world. Only, it is NOT that at all. It is just a call for action – poistitve, affirmative action. Take control of your mental health with pride and responsibility. You will be fine soon.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.

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