Self-Help: Panic Attacks

It comes on suddenly. You feel you can't breathe. Perhaps you are terrified. Your heart races. Maybe you break out in sweat yet feel chilled. It lasts about 20 minutes and then begins to subside. At one point you may worry that you are having a heart attack.

You can't forget it. When ever you feel a bit disoriented, you start worrying that it may happen again.

This is how you may experience a panic attack. Below are the symptoms that are listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Four or more of the following symptoms occur, starting abruptly, reaching a peak in 10 minutes and then subsiding:

  • Heart palpitations or pounding
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of smothering
  • A feeling of choking
  • Chest fullness, discomfort or pain
  • Stomach problems or nausea
  • Dizziness, unsteadyness, light-headedness or faintness
  • A sense of unreality, distance from your body or detachment from yourself
  • Fear of going crazy or losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Tingling or numbness in your limbs
  • Chills or hot flashes

These attacks may come out of the blue or be cued by some trigger event that frightens you such as crossing bridges or eating in public, or seeing a snake. Some people become afraid to leave their neighborhood or home for fear of having another attack. This is called agoraphobia.

If you suffer from panic attacks, you may want to ask your doctor to check for mitral valve prolapse or thyroid problems before starting to use medication and/or therapy to help with the problem. There are also some excellent books for helping people with Panic Disorders.

Research suggests that the sooner you start working with this problem the better. It may be that the more panic attacks a person has, the more likely they are to reoccur. There are several medications that help. In addition, cognitive therapy techniques decrease attacks. Other research shows that a person who has panic attacks may have them at various times in their lives, especially when they are under stress. Some researchers are suggesting that it may be helpful for people to join a group for people with panic attacks or return to therapy at regular intervals to strengthen their ability to overcome these difficult occurrences.

Please see my web page for de-stressing life and dealing with anxiety thoughts to get some ideas of ways to help with this problem until you can get the treatment that you need.