What is … a panic attack


Let us start with how people describe feeling during a panic attack (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Trembling or fidgeting limbs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • unreality or detachment
  • Loss of control.
  • Sense of impending death or danger

Why do we react like this? Well when something triggers a panic attack our bodies fall back to their primal response, you may have heard it called fight, flight or freeze. This releases chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol into the body so we are ready to react to whatever the body has perceived as a threat. However, without any threat to react to the body now needs to do something with this flood of unneeded chemical. This causes the symptoms of rapid breathing, sweating, swimming head, tense tummy, rapid heart rate, twitching muscles because the adrenaline and cortisol that tensed muscles and increased heartrate and breathing to run or fight now has muscles that aren’t running or fighting. Thus we are left with adrenaline and other chemical flooding the body causing a reaction with nothing to use them up.

What causes a panic? This is a harder question to answer as the usual answer is something very unique to the person experiencing the panic attack but it can be any number of things such as a trigger (a colour, a sound, a scent, etc), it can be a reaction to a memory or thought process, it can be an upcoming stressful event. Sometimes however, people have no idea what has triggered their panic attack which can make it harder to help avoid causes.

How can we help ourselves? There are several options to help panic attacks. Some medications can offer relief from them – speak to your doctor about these if you feel you need to. Sometimes people find moving around helps to use up the chemicals in their body. Some people find focusing on a calming object such as a pebble, using their senses to focus on the item. Some people find focusing and controlling their breathing helps. Some people find reciting poetry or song lyrics helps them. Some people like sounds or scents to help them focus. Some people count to help themselves. Again the best solution is often as unique as the trigger because each and every one of us is individual in our experiences.

If you are struggling with panic attacks, would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304