Since 2007, NHS figures have shown that outpatient appointments for anxiety disorders, of which panic attacks are a common form, have increased five times and hospital admissions regarding this have increased by one third. In addition, the charity Anxiety UK has seen a 10 percent increase in calls to its helpline and email support network, with one in ten people suffering from panic attacks and, of these, two thirds are women
The first time that someone experiences a panic attack, they often think that they’re having a heart attack because their heart is beating very fast or irregularly and it is extremely frightening. Other symptoms can include dry mouth, sweating and dizziness and afterwards, some people say that they thought that they were going to die.
Panic attacks usually last from between 5 and 20 minutes and although they feel that something is very wrong, they aren’t usually dangerous and ultimately are usually harmless, except that the fear of having another attack often prevents people from going into situations where they fear the same might happen again.
However, if the attack continues after slow breathing for 20 minutes, you still feel ill after your breathing returns to normal or you still have a rapid or irregular heartbeat after your panic attack, you need to seek medical advice.
The definition of such attacks is ‘acute and disabling anxiety’ and they occur when your body is going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Because your body is trying to take in more oxygen, your breathing speeds up and then your body starts to release hormones such as adrenaline, which causes your heart to beat even faster and often, your muscles tense up too.
If you have suffered such an episode, here are some tips to help you manage them in the future:
- As the anxiety begins, try to ‘ride out’ the attack if possible, reminding yourself that the anxiety will pass.
- Start breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose whilst counting to five and breath out through your mouth, again whilst counting to five. Close your eyes while doing this and focus entirely on your breathing.
- Exercise regularly as this will help you to manage stress levels, improve your mood and boost your confidence.
- Eat regular meals – this stabilises your blood sugar levels.
- Avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol – these can make panic attacks even worse.
- If you’ve found that going into supermarkets and crowded places bring on anxiety, try to avoid them until you have regained your confidence regarding attacks.
- There are support groups such as No Panic and they have useful advice about how to effectively manage such attacks. Knowing that other people have experienced these feelings can be helpful.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help to change negative thought patterns that might be feeding your panic attacks. It is one of the longest established CBT approaches that has been found to help many clients who have suffered in this way.
You may find that counselling will help to give you more support with panic attacks as well as other issues that may be going on in your life.