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That awful feeling

Here's how to recognise a panic attack, and quell anxiety

Photo: K.R. Deepak

Think positive Beat anxiety

“All of a sudden, I felt a tremendous wave of mindless fear. My heart was pounding, my chest paining and breathing was getting more difficult. I thought I was going to die.”

“I'm so afraid. Every time I get ready to leave, I get that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach and I'm terrified that another panic attack is on its way, or that some other terrible thing is going to happen.” These are but a couple of people describing their panic attacks. In reality, many people frequently experience panic attacks and live their lives avoiding situations that frighten them.

In simple terms, a panic attack is the result of a whole lot of adrenaline being released into the bloodstream. A message of fear sends a signal to the adrenal glands that there is an emergency. They, in turn, release adrenaline that gives the body a heightened ability to respond to emergencies. This emergency response causes physical symptoms many misinterpret as a heart attack or as some other serious condition.

Look out for...

Some symptoms of panic attacks include palpitation, rapid heart rate, profuse sweating, trembling and shaking, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, abdominal distress, dizziness and light-headedness, derealisation (feeling detached from oneself), fear of losing control of oneself, of dying or of being attacked, numbness or a tingling sensation, loss of bladder control and alternating chills and hot flushes.

One may have only one or two panic attacks in a lifetime. But, if one has had several panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, it may be a chronic condition called panic disorder. Panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, but they're now recognised as a real medical condition. A person undergoing a panic attack very often feels he/she is having a heart attack. Unexpected panic attacks can result in a persistent fear of repeated attacks. Panic disorder may be spontaneous, or a reaction to certain situations.

Vicious cycle

People with depression may also be more inclined to experiencing one or more panic attacks due to the vulnerable state of their mind.

If the panic attacks are not dealt with appropriately, the person might think he/she is becoming mentally unsound, and turn paranoid. This, in turn, will create more anxiety, triggering panic attacks.

Panic disorder may also occur with agoraphobia. This means the person is anxious about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or in which help may not be available in the event of a panic attack.

Once people have a panic attack, they may develop irrational fears, called phobias, about the situations they are in during the attacks and begin to avoid them. That, in turn, may reach a point where the mere idea of doing things that preceded the first panic attack triggers terror; so, a person with panic disorder is, at times, unable to even drive or step out of the house..

The symptoms of panic disorder in adolescents is almost similar to what adults experience. However, younger children are less likely to display symptoms that involve ways of thinking (cognitive symptoms). For example, such attacks in children may result in the child's grades declining, decreased school attendance, etc.

COMBATING PANIC ATTACKS

Relax As soon as you feel the onset of an that an attack, take a is coming onn...relax...take a deep breath and breathe out slowly

Stop negative thinking Avoid thinking that you are having a heart attack or that you are going to fall, or faint : ......such as, I am having a heart attack, I am going to fall off and faint, etc

Use coping statements Convince yourself that you are not having a heart attack and that you are only in the grip of fear ..Tell yourself ‘ this is noot a heart attack, I am only being held by my fear...

Accept your feelings Understand and accept that it is not .....It is not abnormal to have such feelings. And, develop the ability to control your reaction to these feelings. ...but one muust be in control of the somatic reactioons to these feelings. However, when the symptoms are very severe, and frequent, take professional help.

JAISHRI RAMAKRISHNAN

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