Panic attacks can be a scary experience. In this hub, our mental wellbeing advisor, Marianna Kilburn, provides information and support for people prone to panic attacks, as well as tips on how to prevent them, and how to cope when one occurs. A Q&A service is also provided where Marianna answers your questions on panic attacks.
Panic attacks are episodes of sudden anxiety, intense fear or a feeling of acute apprehension. They are usually brief and resolve without the need of any treatment within a quarter of an hour. Although harmless, panic attacks can give rise to a loss of confidence, especially if the sufferer finds attacks difficult to control or manage.
Panic attacks are relatively common. It is said that 5% of people will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives. Other research suggests that up to 20% of adults are prone to panic attacks.
Although panic attacks can occur randomly without any obvious cause, they are most often associated with a trigger such as being under stress or when receiving bad news. People more prone to the condition are those with a tendency to anxiety, worry, low mood or depression.
However, women tend to be more prone to the problem and some find that these are associated with certain times of their menstrual cycle – panic attacks can be a feature of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Fluctuations in hormonal levels also cause pregnant women and those going through the menopause to be more prone to panic attacks.
Panic attacks are more likely to affect younger people as well as those experiencing high levels of stress, such as during illness, after a death in the family, moving house or a new job.
They have a greater tendency to affect people more if they are ‘worriers’ or those who find that their capacity to cope with stress is lower than that of their friends or colleagues. For some, what would seem a ‘normal’ stressful event can lead to panic attacks - for instance, just before an exam or a job interview.
However, it is not just negative stress that can lead to panic attacks. They can arise as a result of extreme excitement – for instance, meeting your favourite celebrity!
If you are prone to attacks, the best thing you can do is to try to stop a panic attack before it develops and symptoms become out of hand.
The initial stages of a panic attack are not usually too severe and still within your control. It is important to breathe deeply and try to think calmly. Taking deep breaths will keep the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, preventing symptoms such as tingling or muscle spasms. Thinking calmly will tell your body that there is no need to react excitedly to a specific situation, often preventing the panic attack from developing further.
Most people experiencing panic attacks will find that these are either single or isolated episodes which do not return. If your panic attacks are recurrent or appear to be ‘constant’, you should seek professional advice.
In addition, see your doctor if:
You experience prolonged bouts of anxiety
You have constant palpitations or experience an irregular heartbeat
Feel frequently short of breath, especially on exercise or in bed
Marianna works in central London as a Trainer and In Store Health Adviser for A Vogel. She is also a Practitioner Life Coach with both personal and professional experience in stress management. She has a passion for helping people tap into their inner wisdom and maximise their potential for good health. Marianna’s aim, in these pages, is to share tools and tricks for well-being and encourage a search for personal solutions to life’s challenges.
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Stress Relief Daytime – for stress and mild anxiety
Panic attacks do not always occur in busy, stressful situations – in fact, panic attacks at night are fairly common. This is because at night, worries and stress can overwhelm us as the mind tries to process the day’s events.