Panic disorder – Fear out of the blue
Mrs. Meyer, 36 years old, a retail saleswoman by profession, is taking a leisurely stroll through the city center with her small family on Saturday. Since it is very warm, they want to treat themselves to a delicious ice cream sundae at the ice cream parlor. The last time was very stressful and therefore they all enjoy the hours together.
But shortly after the order is placed, Mrs. Meyer is suddenly overcome by a violent dizziness. Her hands become clammy, she has the feeling that she can no longer breathe and her heart races as if she had just run 10 km. In addition, there is a tingling sensation in her hands and arms and the fear of fainting on the spot. Her husband calls the emergency doctor, who takes Mrs. Meyer to the clinic. After a thorough examination, organic causes for her symptoms can be ruled out. With the diagnosis of panic attacks, Mrs. Meyer leaves the hospital the next day.
The fear builds up
Panic attacks are common and usually come out of nowhere. They are subject to a process of building up – which proceeds as follows:
- Onset of physical changes, such as accelerated heartbeat, dizziness or nausea.
- Focus is placed on these changes. Intensive observation is made of the symptoms that occur and close attention is paid to how they develop.
- Assessment of physical changes. “Oh my God, I’m having a heart attack!“; “Help, I must have a brain tumor!”; “I wonder if these are the first signs of a stroke now?”
- Anxiety magnifies. When physical changes are combined with worrying thoughts, anxiety increases further. This results in the worsening of physical symptoms.
- Worsened physical symptoms in turn increase anxiety. Anxious thoughts continue to swell until the situation finally culminates in a panic attack.
This is why music is important for the development of children
During a panic attack, the following symptoms may occur:
- Palpitations, heart palpitations
- Dizziness, feeling as if the floor is swaying, walking as if on absorbent cotton
- tingling in the limbs
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty breathing, feeling like you can’t take a deep breath
- Chest pain
- Nausea, diarrhea
- Feeling of unreality and alienation
Not all symptoms always manifest themselves. There can also be significant differences in how these are experienced. In any case, the panic attack is accompanied by fearful thoughts. Fear of dying, fear of being helplessly at the mercy of others, and panic of losing control are at the top of the list of catastrophic thoughts.
Panic disorder – the vicious circle of fear
With the first panic attack, the life of the affected person usually changes abruptly. Since the occurring symptoms as well as the associated fear are experienced as extremely threatening, they fear the recurrence of such a condition from this point on. Situations and places that are associated with the panic attack are avoided. The fear of fear is awakened and thus people with a panic disorder find themselves in the middle of the vicious circle of fear. Elaborate plans and avoidance strategies are devised and all have one goal: to never again be in a situation where one has experienced such extreme fear. The limitations in coping with everyday life can be enormous and people with severe panic attacks may find it impossible to even leave their house. However, there are also sufferers who experience only one panic attack and can cope with it relatively well. One speaks of a panic disorder only when within a month several such states are suffered through and when these limit the life of the affected person.
Fighting panic attacks – looking fear in the face
If you suffer from panic attacks, psychotherapy can help you. Together with the therapist you will learn to break the vicious circle of fear and to look panic in the face. Because anxiety can only grow into panic if it is fed by worrying thoughts. A panic attack is like a wave that rolls over you. It comes with power and ebbs away just as quickly. The key to overcoming panic attacks is to allow them to happen. Don’t fight the physical symptoms and stay in the here and now with your thoughts. Certain relaxation techniques can additionally help you lower your baseline tension and make it less susceptible to anxiety.
Combating Acute Panic Attacks
Many patients have developed strategies to combat an acute panic attack. For example:
- Listening to relaxation music
- Drinking hot milk
- taking a relaxing bath with lemon balm
- Pressing ice cubes on the forearm
- Distract yourself with conversations, TV, music, pet
- Also ask your doctor how to combat acute panic attacks.
The sooner panic attacks are treated, the better the chances of success. Your family doctor will also check you thoroughly to rule out any possible physical illnesses that may be related to the threatening symptoms. Afterwards, you can be sure that the conditions you are experiencing are only an exaggerated stress reaction and that your life is not threatened in the process. This knowledge will help you to accept the panic attacks and not to get further into them.
[Please note: Our articles cannot replace the advice of a doctor. In case of health problems, please always consult a doctor you trust].