The series continues to focus on some common anxiety woes. Part 2 focused on insomnia, while Part 3 focused on the heart. Again – not a doctor, and nothing here is doctor’s advice. This series assumes you really have been checked out by a doctor and have been given the all-clear as explained in previous posts.

Last edited: 5/16/20

Something’s not feeling quite right. Maybe you know what it is, but it’s also possible that you don’t. Either way, there’s something nagging at you, something saying you need to avoid it, whatever it is. That feeling rapidly grows into a feeling of panic. Your heart rate is high, you’re barely paying attention to anything around you, you’re hyperventilating (but probably don’t notice it), and you’re frantically rushing around, or else trying to find some sort of ‘safe zone’ to sit or lie down.

That’s a basic panic attack. While there can be more (or different) symptoms than I mentioned above, that’s pretty much my typical experience. Panic attacks can seem devastating for the amount of time a person experiences them. They can be triggered by something specific, or perhaps nothing specific at all.

The good news is that if it is something specific, you know what to work on. If you can help it, do NOT try to avoid the thing that gives you panic (assuming it’s something fairly regular like being in crowds, flying, work, etc.). Avoidance hurts in the long run. We have anxiety because we’re afraid of things, and if we avoid things, we become even more afraid of them. A certain amount of willingness to step out of your comfort zone is recommended, and perhaps even necessary, for this. The best thing to do if possible is to draft up a series of increasingly harder tasks that would help you get used to the thing in question. For example, if you had a fear of flying, the first thing to do might be to simply step into an airport. Then (at a different time), you may decide to stay there for a while and watch planes take off. Then (at a third time) you might actually wish to board a short round-trip flight with somebody you know. Then you would do that by yourself the next time. And so on, and so forth. You can go even slower than that if you wish. The idea is to gradually expose yourself to your fears in a relatively safe and controlled way.

But what if you don’t know what triggers panic attacks for you? Maybe they’re just out of the blue? You can still manage them and learn from them. Here’s one way I learned: at the first sign of panic, yell ‘stop’ in your head (or you can do it audibly if there’s nobody around too). Start breathing slowly deeply from your abdomen (this will be covered in more detail in a later post) – one enemy in panic attacks is an unconscious tendency to hyperventilate, which rarely makes things better. If you can control your mind and your breath, you are on the way to controlling the attack too. Then, try examining the attack from the sidelines. Ask yourself ‘what is causing me distress?’. If it’s something you know, you have two choices: fight or flight. In other words, stay there and cope or leave the scene that’s causing you distress. As stated before, it’s recommended that you’re open to experiencing whatever frightens you, although it’s okay at first if it’s too much to bear and you have to leave.

If you don’t know what’s causing you distress, then running might do less good, even though you may feel like it will. Most if not all of my panic attacks were of this kind – I simply reclined on a chair, ice pack in hand (for me, it definitely helped to feel the cool sensation on my forehead. Sort of like a method to ground me in reality), turned on the TV, and waited it out. The big symptoms disappeared in minutes, and I felt normal again usually within a half hour. Over time, you should be able to get a grasp of what works best for you – and with luck, panic attacks should become less and less of a problem for you.

You can also get panic attacks at night which wake you up. These can be in response to nightmares, or again, nothing at all.

My anxiety story actually began with panic attacks – I got them out of the blue every 1-2 days for a couple weeks and it started to make me fearful something was happening to me – I didn’t know what – and I guess that’s how this whole thing got started.

The good news is panic attacks, especially the ones that come at you for no reason, will become less frequent if you follow steps to decrease your anxiety in general (which will be covered in future posts). The attacks can really just be seen as anxiety symptoms themselves – they happen more if you feel anxious, and less if you’re not.

This wraps up the series of posts on the important symptoms I wanted to hit. Of course, you’ll likely have more than what I went though in previous posts, but these are common and applicable to many people, so I wanted to hit those, at least. Pretty much all anxiety symptoms can be ultimately vanquished in the same way – by decreasing your anxiety level. And starting next time, we’ll finally jump into ways to do that. Until next time, stay well!