Recently, Zoya Akhtar, a film director opened up about her biggest challenge i.e experiencing panic attacks.
“I had my first panic attack at 27. It’s not something you can ignore, you can’t sit around and get sucked into a rabbit hole. I chose to get help immediately. It took a while to work things out but I am fine now. You realize you have to become aware of your inner monologue. The things you say to yourself. This raised my consciousness so it was vital to my growth”
Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear and discomfort that reach a peak within a few minutes where the person experiences the following physical characteristics:
- Severe Anxiety
- Pounding Heart
- Choking Sensation
- A sensation of heart attack
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks usually last from 5 to 20 minutes and typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside.
There are two types of panic attacks: Situational and Unexpected
Predisposition- In terms of personality, those who are more prone to anxiety have a higher risk of experiencing a panic attack.
External Stressors- Situational Panic attacks have a trigger for example- a person who has intense fear of enclosed spaces, public areas, public speaking may experience panic attacks in such situations. Traumatic events such as a death, sexual abuse, physical violence, adverse life events also tend to be seen in the months preceding a panic attack.
Difference between anxiety and panic attacks
Though similar and often interchangeably used, panic attack and anxiety differ in the following ways:
-Anxiety is a symptom and can be part of multiple disorders including panic attacks
-Anxiety is the anticipation of something going wrong, a potential danger. It is uncertain
The onset of a panic attack can happen without a trigger. There is anticipation in panic attacks but it is certain- it is an anticipation/dread/fear of another panic attack.
HOW TO DEAL WITH PANIC ATTACKS
The fact that a panic attack can happen anytime, without a trigger is what makes it frightening for the person who has experienced it as they start anticipating when the next attack might happen and lead to Avoidance behaviors i.e they tend to leave or avoid the circumstances/situations where they experienced the panic attack.
EXPOSURE– The main reason why people are afraid of the next panic attack is that the physical symptoms are terrifying
Now here the important thing to remember is that though highly distressing, a panic attack is not fatal. It does subside after a few minutes of extreme discomfort.
So even if it may seem counterproductive, the best way to deal with panic is to get habituated to the discomfort. WHY? If we avoid those circumstances, we may experience temporary relief from the uncomfortable symptoms but we never give ourselves the chance to see that it can be completely overcome, that it is unpleasant but temporary.
SELF SOOTHE– Say these words or write it somewhere where you can read them example your phone- – I can be in control, these symptoms are uncomfortable but It will go away very soon. I won’t die, I will not collapse.
THERAPY– If the panic disorder starts affecting daily life functioning then therapy is recommended to overcome the catastrophic thoughts regarding panic attack symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been proven to be effective in teaching different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack. The attacks can begin to disappear once we learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear that occur during panic attacks.