Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear or apprehension that are of sudden onset and of relatively brief duration. Panic attacks usually begin abruptly, reach a peak within 10 minutes, and are mainly over within 30 minutes, they can be as short as 15 seconds, or can be cyclic, lasting for an extended period, sometimes hours.
Panic attacks are essentially the result of a trigger which causes the body to go into the fight or flight response.
What makes it scarey are the feelings of not being in control, however once a person recognises the symptoms it can be controlled reasonably easily and using mindfulness techniques and hypnotherapy they tend to reduce very quickly.
The following happens during a panic attack:
- Heart beat increases - to get you to run from the problem.
- Breath becomes shorter
- Sweating increases
- Mouth becomes dry
- Digestion becomes irratic and may turn into IBS
- Clear intense panic
- Palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Muscle tension
- Blurry vision
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or going insane
- Fear of dying
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Chills or hot flashes
- Weakness in the knees
- Tunnel vision
- Blank mind
- Sensing time going by very slowly
- Feeling the need to escape
- Feeling of warmth inside, expanding from within
- Head pressure, unlike headache
Treatment of Panic Attacks
Many panic attack sufferers as well as doctors recommend breathing into a paper bag or hands as an effective short-term treatment of an acute panic attack. However, this treatment has been criticised by others as ineffective and possibly hazardous to the patient, even potentially worsening the panic attack. They say it can fatally lower oxygen levels in the blood stream, and increase carbon dioxide levels, which in turn has been found to be a major cause of panic attacks.
Using hypnotherapy, relaxation, mindfulness and sometimes CBT can help change the triggers, can help control the episodes and help reduce the anxiety. Sometimes a person can realise what might be causing the panic attacks and come up with solutions to help them deal with them if they arise.
In women, Estrogen has an inhibitive affect on the stress-hormone cortisol. When estrogen is too low during the menopause or in cases of eating disorders, levels of cortisol rise, raising blood pressure and blood sugar, and causing panic disorder. Estrogen also has an important affect on serotonin, which is responsible for happy, balanced moods. Estrogen helps to stimulate the production and transportation of serotonin around the body, and prevents its break down.
Finally, hormonal fluctuations during menopause cause panic disorder due to drops in the hormone progesterone. Progesterone has been shown to have a calming, soothing affect on the brain, and low levels of progesterone (in combination with the hormonal changes described above) can cause panic disorder.