We live in crazy times.
Some of us have lost our homes, our life savings, our financial security.
Others are one paycheck away from financial disaster. And the world is an uncertain place - the crime rate is up, Global Warming is getting worse, Politics is still in shambles... there seems to be no end to the list of things to worry about.
We work harder than ever, as technology enables us (and sometimes pushes us) to always be "connected." Laptops, Blackberries, iPhones, and a global economy all conspire to create an endless cycle of work.
With all that - no wonder 5 million people in the US alone are suffering from anxiety and panic attacks!
A "panic attack" is a sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and that triggers severe physical reactions. Panic attacks can be frightening. When an attack occurs, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
You may have only one or two panic attacks in your lifetime. But if you have panic attacks frequently, it could mean that you have "panic disorder," a type of chronic anxiety disorder. Panic attacks are frightening but, fortunately, physically harmless episodes. They can occur at random or after a person is exposed to various events that trigger a panic attack. They may peak in intensity very rapidly and go away with or without medical help.
Panic attacks won't kill you, but they can sure make your life miserable.
People experiencing panic attacks may experience fears of dying or suffocating, or believe they are having a heart attack.
They may voice fears that they are "going crazy" and seek to remove themselves from whatever situation they may be in. Other symptoms may include rapid breathing and a feeling like their "hearts are jumping around in their chest." Then, within about an hour, the symptoms fade away.
About 5% of the population will experience a panic attack during their lifetimes. People who have repeated attacks require further evaluation from a health professional and may require treatment. Panic attacks can indicate the presence of panic disorder, depression, or other forms of anxiety-based illnesses.
What are some of the causes or triggers of Panic Attacks?
- Heredity. Panic attacks have been found to run in families;
- Biological causes such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, inner ear disturbances, and Vitamin B deficiency;
- Significant personal loss of a loved one, significant life change, and significant stress;
- Negative self-talk ("what-if" thinking), mistaken beliefs ("these symptoms are harmful and/or dangerous"), overly cautious view of the world expressed by parents and cumulative stress over time can all cause panic attacks;
- Panic attacks may be a temporary side effect of some medications;
- Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or marijuana use, prescription medication, or drug withdrawal can cause panic attacks as part of their withdrawal syndrome or rebound effect.
- Hyperventilation syndrome that causes rapid heart beat, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
What does a panic attack feel like?
Experiencing a panic attack is said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person's life. People having panic attacks describe it this way:
- "The world feels unsafe and I terrorize myself with "what if's" that never happen."
- "I have panic attacks that come on suddenly with no correlation to what's going on in my life at the time."
- "The first symptom I get is light-headedness, then I get very hot, racing heart, tingling finger and toes, shortness of breath. I then have a dire need to escape so as not to embarrass myself in public."
- "I have passed out for about 2 minutes at a nightclub before. That was embarrassing. They thought I was drunk, but I had just gotten there and had only had 1 bottle of water!"
- "I felt an intense fear in the pit of my stomach"
- "I keep having these feelings of - OMG, I'm dying!"
Panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, but they're now recognized as a real medical condition. Panic attacks can significantly affect your quality of life, but, luckily, effective treatment is available.