For those of us who have experienced panic attacks, they are sudden and severe and very scary.
"It's not really known as to why some people have panic attacks and others do not. What we do know is that panic attacks come from our fight or flight response when our brain perceives something that is dangerous," said Dr. Angela Kenzslowe, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Purple Heart Behavioral Health, LLC.
What are panic attacks?
When these attacks do happen, though, all we want is for them to end. "Panic attacks are different from anxiety in that they are sudden rushes of fear that can happen when you are fully relaxed or when you already anxious," said Amy Vigliotti, PhD, founder of SelfWorks Group: Therapy Professionals.
How long do they last?
Panic attacks peak quite quickly and then decrease within 10 to 30 minutes. "When it first hits, you might think that you are sick, dying, or going crazy. It can come on suddenly when you least expect it and include a variety of physical sensations: feeling dizzy, faint, trembly, sweaty, or short of breath, hot or cold flashes, nausea, chest discomfort, and racing heart," Dr. Vigliotti said.
The physical sensations may also continue for a while after the panic attack subsides. "According to recent large-scale surveys of the adult population in the US, one out of every 12 people suffers from panic disorder at some time in his or her life," Dr. Vigliotti said.
Preventing the next one
Because we don't know when we are going to experience a panic attack, we start to have anxiety or worry about when we will have the next one. "Because of this worry, we begin to avoid situations that we believe will bring on a panic attack. Such avoidances include being in crowds or driving. This is when we begin to see social anxiety become more common," Dr. Kenzslowe said. Typically, the actual panic attack does not last long, but the anxiety surrounding panic can be longstanding.
One effective way to help resolve panic is to change our thoughts. "We know that a panic attack does not actually put us in danger. If we are open to experiencing them and being uncomfortable during the attack, we will begin to better manage them," Dr. Kenzslowe said. These thoughts may include: This is not an emergency. This will not hurt me even though it doesn't feel good. This will go away and stop. I am able to handle this.
What will hopefully help you, though, is finding the remedy that works for you. "I suffered with panic attacks a few years ago and used my knowledge as a herbalist to overcome the situation," said Natasha Richardson, founder of Forage Botanicals Ltd. "My panic attacks didn't fit the normal pattern of difficult breathing, but I did have the feeling of impending doom. I found that my anxiety was a result of me feeling out of control in my working life and exhaustion from pushing myself too hard to find security in work. I found that using relaxants and adaptogens over a period of months eventually helped me recover. I actually used a fidget spinner to help distract me from the panic when it laid in and just waited for it to go away! Eventually I trained my brain to realize the panic was as bad as it ever got and I regained control of my body again," she said.