Table of Contents
- 1 Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- 2 What is it Like to Have a Panic Attack?
- 3 What is a Typical Heart Rate during a Panic Attack?
- 4 How does a Panic Attack Differ from Heart Attack?
- 5 How to Manage Panic Attacks?
- 6 How to Prevent Panic Attacks?
- 7 Conclusion
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
There are several symptoms that you can experience suddenly. How do you know if you are having a panic attack, or if the symptoms are a sign of some other ailment? Before you are able to treat panic attack, you need to identify the symptoms, if you really are having a panic attack. Identifying the symptoms will help you to put your plan into action so that you can quickly calm yourself down and return to normal state as soon as possible even before the fight or flight reaction hits you.
But what are the symptoms of panic attack? Let’s take a look:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Racing thoughts (often repetitive and negative)
- Shallow, rapid breathing, which leads to hyperventilation
- Sweating (also cold sweat)
- Tensed muscles
- Cold or hot flashes
- Pain or tingling in different parts of body, such as chest pain or throat pain, or tingling in fingers
- Dilated pupils, scared look
- Overall discomfort
- Feeling dizzy or “light-headed”
- Feeling detached from the surroundings or feeling unreal
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
Especially rapid heart rate is the first symptoms of a panic attack. It can be so fast and so scary, that you feel like you are having a heart attack – which makes you to panic even more! Rest assured, this is usually not the case but if you are unsure it’s naturally safest thing to let the doctor check you. Seeing somebody talking care of you can subsidize the panic attack quickly, but of course this is not a sustainable method and you definitely should find better ones.
What is it Like to Have a Panic Attack?
But how long do the symptoms of panic attack last? And what is it like to have a panic attack? This is again a very individual experience, so let’s take a look of my personal story or having panic attacks (when I wasn’t able to control and keep them completely at bay yet!). From my personal experience, panic attacks come in waves. You feel one coming, and without effective methods to avoid the coming panic attack, it hits you with full power after a few minutes. Some say the symptoms take some 10-20 to reach their peak, but for me it took maximum five minutes. When the symptoms had reached their peak, I was fighting with my mind and body for several minutes (maybe 10 minutes) to get myself under control. I tried to think of something else, usually something nice and positive, or I tried physical methods like bite my lip to cause even stronger uncomfortable feeling than what the panic attack was causing.
When having a panic attack, my biggest fear was that I would have lost control. I was afraid that I would have made a fool of myself by doing something embarrassing, like vomiting. (So I was having a sort of emetophobia as well!) The fear of embarrassing me was strong and uncontrollable. I felt tight feeling in my chest and in my throat, my throat was dry and my body was numb. My neck muscles were tight. I never vomited – I wasn’t even close of vomiting – even that was my biggest fear.
My thoughts were racing, I felt uncontrollable panic and anxiety. I felt that I’m the only one in the world who is having these symptoms. Everybody else around me was looking so happy and so calm. I felt frustration and even anger of why this is happening to me again and why I’m not able to control it. I felt that life was treating me in an unfair way. Why this was happening to me and not to anybody else? Why cannot I control it? Why cannot I control myself? I felt like a loser.
Usually I got myself somehow under control for a short while – let’s say for five minutes – and then I felt a new, stronger wave of panic attack coming. Again, fighting with my thoughts, feeling of tight muscles, numb body, fear of losing it all and feeling of embarrassment.
This repeated, until I had to remove myself from the situation (like leave the movie theater if I was watching a movie) which naturally made me feel even more like an epic loser and the biggest coward in the world.
For me the symptoms of the panic attack took only a few minutes to subsidize, but for some people it might take several hours.
Have you ever had a panic attack? If not, then great! Have you ever had to give a speech in public? And even then you haven’t had any sudden feeling of panic? You are a miracle, then! For most people, giving a speech in public causes feeling of panic. Add there physical symptoms and multiply the uncomfortable feeling by ten and you know how is it like to have a panic attack.
What is a Typical Heart Rate during a Panic Attack?
Since rapid heartbeat is one of the most typical symptoms of a panic attack, let’s take a closer look of the typical heart rate during a panic attack.
Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer to the question what is a typical, or even “normal” heart rate during a panic attack. First of all, every person has a different resting heart rate which means that they start with different baselines. A sportsperson can have a resting heart rate as low as 40 bpm, whereas someone who is unfit or has health problems can have a resting heart rate as high as 120 bpm.
Exercise strengthens the heart, that’s why athletes and other persons who do lots of sports have so low resting heart rate. The heart muscle becomes strong and is able to convey blood throughout the whole body effectively. In the end this means that a strong heart muscle doesn’t have to beat as fast as a weaker heart that hasn’t got exercise or is weakened by some ailment. Other factors which affect heart rate are for example blood viscosity and vasodilation, person’s height and weight, as well as metabolism.
Panic and anxiety increase the heartbeat via adrenaline and other stress hormones. That causes a sudden spike in heart rate. The resulting heart rate depends on the individual. For an athlete the panic heart rate can still be slower than an unhealthy person without a panic attack.
As a rule of thumb, though, the heart rate during a panic attack can be anything from 100 bpm to 170 bpm, which is equivalent to a relatively intensive workout. What is also important to remember is that everybody experiences the panic attack in a different way, and every panic attack differs from each other, also when it comes to heart rate.
How does a Panic Attack Differ from Heart Attack?
Because the fear of having a heart attack instead of panic attack is so strong, it’s good to examine how these two conditions differ from each other. First of all, it’s very probable that during a panic attack you are experiencing not only rapid heartbeat, but also butterflies in the stomach, shaking, restlessness, shallow and rapid breathing, dizziness, and even nausea. Panic attack is a typical fight or flight reaction – though an intensified one — to something uncomfortable you have to confront.
Consider also the risk factors to having a heart attack. If you don’t have any risks, didn’t have any heart problems before, and are otherwise a fairly healthy person, it’s very unlikely that you would be suddenly having a heart attack.
Panic and anxiety attack often includes chest pain. Examining the nature of chest pain can give a lot of insight into finding out if you are experiencing a heart attack or if you are suffering from a panic attack. It is often the chest pain which makes us to suspect a heart attack rather than a panic attack. However, the nature of the chest pain with heart attack differs from the nature of the chest pain with panic attack-
For example, with heart attack, the pain is usually described as a crushing, dull ache with shortness of breath, like somebody would be sitting on your chest. The chest pain with heart attack often includes pain in one arm, in neck, in upper back, or in the jaw.
In a panic attack, a person is not short of breath, but is rather having hyperventilation which is caused by rapid and shallow breathing. The alkalization caused by hyperventilation causes blood vessels and eventually the muscles to constrict. These muscle contractions together with extreme stress cause the tight, even painful feeling, in the chest.
How to Manage Panic Attacks?
There are a few things that you can do to stop the symptoms of a panic attack, however, in the next section we will tackle the issue how to prevent them completely. I’ve already written an extensive three-part post about how to stop panic attack immediately, so I will just cover the topic very shortly here.
So, how to manage a panic attack and get yourself under control again, feeling safe and secure?
Secure Safe Surroundings
Despite all the intense feelings, panic attacks are usually harmless. However, there can be a real danger of having an accident, for example if you are driving a car. You can also fall over, or hit your head, if you are standing while having a panic attack. Because of these reasons, you should try to find a secure place or position immediately. If you are in public, excuse yourself and find a quiet spot where you can sit, calm down and take deep breaths. If you want, you can tell somebody what you are experiencing. Getting support helps many times and you feel more secure when you know that somebody is aware of what you are going through. If you are driving a car, take the next opportunity to pull over. Use efficient methods to calm yourself down so that it’s safe to continue driving after recovering from the panic attack.
Hyperventilation is often part of a full-blown panic attack. When you breathe rapidly under extreme excitement, it lowers the carbon dioxide content of your blood. This, in turn can lead to feeling dizzy or light-headed. If they last long, you might fall over or even pass out.
There are several different possibilities to treat hyperventilation. All of them can help you during a panic attack to get your breathing back to normal.
Even in normal conditions, it’s important to get your breathing under control. You can do this by making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply. Cognitive behavioral therapists recommend this as one of their main methods to prevent panic attacks and to stop them.
Slow and deep breathing is effective because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), one of the two sections of the autonomic nervous system. PSNS is responsible for regulating the unconscious actions or the body and thus acts contrary to the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn is responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction.
Breathe into a Bag
As said, during hyperventilation the carbon dioxide content of the blood rises, making the blood alkaline. To normalize this condition, you can breathe into a bag so that you rebreathe the same air, adjusting the levels back to healthy and normal.
Use Buteyko Method
Buteyko breathing technique – or Buteyko method – is a form of alternative physical therapy where chronic, repetitive breathing exercises are used to treat different physical conditions, like asthma or hyperventilation. A Ukrainian doctor, Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, invented this method in the 1950s. According to him, several medical conditions are based on hidden, undiagnosed hyperventilation. Even the Buteyko method is not supported by officials, many people claim to have benefited from it.
Calm Your Mind
Anxious thoughts — including different fears — usually follow panic attacks. These thoughts are both symptoms of panic attacks as well as caused by panic attacks, thus you end up with a vicious cycle.
The key in recovering from panic attacks is to try to stay calm. This means using different methods, like positive affirmations, to discipline your thoughts. With these methods you reassure yourself and your mind that nothing bad will happen to you.
There are self-help guides created by former sufferers of panic attacks which provide tools to help you know what to do if you will suffer from a panic attack and how to prevent future panic attacks. The great thing with these types of guides is that the persons who have created them have first-hand information of panic attack: they know exactly how a panic attack feels and what kinds of techniques help curb panic attacks. If you meet a psychiatrist who has never experienced a panic attack, how is he able to know what do you exactly feel?
But in general, when you are in the middle of a panic attack, try to remind yourself that the attack will run its course, and you can be just an observer, without actually taking part to it. As long as you are in a safe place, sitting down, there is no danger to you or anybody else, and there is nothing you have to be embarrassed about. You can breathe calmly and say: “Thank God this will be soon over, it’s just my mind playing tricks on me and it cannot hurt me!”
Practice the ability to act normal during a panic attack and that will help you decrease their occurrence in the future.
Use Medications (but only if you really have to!)
There are several medications which can be useful to treat hyperventilation and other symptoms of panic attack. However, medication always comes with risks and side effects. Therefore, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of the available medications before using them. Always consult your doctor before starting to take any new medications, even if they are OTC medications. Moreover, it’s always better to treat the root cause of the anxiety and panic attacks with drug-free methods rather than damp the symptoms with medication.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks?
In order to efficiently prevent panic attacks, it’s helpful to know a bit more about neurotransmitters and hormones. Our neurons release both neurotransmitters and hormones. This in turn makes our body to release different chemicals which determine how we will be feeling about a certain thing, whether it’s important or not, or if we should store it in our memory.
And what does this have to do with panic attacks then? The answer is surprisingly simple: there are specific neurons which release specific neurotransmitter which generate panic attacks. Our experiences and thoughts form a ‘connectome’, a web of interconnected neurons.
Again, in the middle of panic attack, it’s important to remember that it’s all in your head. It’s the result how your brain has collected and converted information. If you think you are safe, your body will produce oxytocin, but if you think you are in danger, you will produce adrenaline instead. It’s good to remember that it’s not the danger itself which causes the panic attack but rather your perception of danger. Your mind doesn’t make any difference if the danger is real, or if it’s just your assumption and perception.
When the perception is completely skewed and not truthful, you can end up with panic attacks, phobias, and anxiety disorder. Your mind overreacts to the situation, finally causing different physical and mental conditions.
But no worries! You can rewire your brain. With practice, you can change the way you think about things. This means that you will have more neuronal activity to release more positive, prosocial hormones and less negative stress hormones. By practicing the way you think you will finally beat panic attacks and anxiety for good!
But not so fast! As your brain activity is mainly controlled by stress hormones, it makes very time-consuming and difficult to try to think differently about things and formulate more positive beliefs which help you curb panic attacks. You indeed need discipline to help yourself gradually overcome those stressful situations and to prevent them completely.
The AWARE Method to prevent Panic Attacks
You have to constantly remind yourself that what you are experiencing now is not as bad as you think. Believe that things go well and they will. One example of mental discipline and how this reminding and believing works is the AWARE method, which is a widely used technique for treating panic attacks and anxiety.
The letters have their purpose, namely:
A: Accept the panic attack and anxiety.
Don’t fight against your feelings, but accept your emotions, they are anyway what everyone feels at some point in their life. Accept that it’s only your mind that plays tricks on you and there will be no harm done despite the uncomfortable moment that will eventually disappear. Instead, you can be happy that your brain and nervous system work and try to keep you safe!
W: Watch and observe the panic attack and anxiety.
Your emotions are time-limited, they will last a certain time and then subside. Don’t judge yourself or your feelings, but try to be a distant observer. The panic attack will run its course. First, the intensity of your feelings will increase, then reach their peak and finally disappear, at their own pace. You can try to rate the intensity of your panic attack. That helps keep you as an observer, not as a participant.
A: Act normal.
During the panic attack, try to act as normal as you can. You are not in danger and trying to act normal helps you control your thoughts. Also act normally between your panic attacks. Don’t avoid places or situations where you know you will get panic attack, but take it as challenge, go there and apply the AWARE method. If you avoid panic attacks, they will just get worse and make you feel more miserable.
R: Rinse and repeat.
Practice, practice, practice. It took years for your mind to grow those bad habits, so it will take time to curb the panic attacks completely. Accept your panic attacks, watch them as observer and act normal. Repeat this until the intensity of your panic attacks gets lower and finally you don’t experience any panic attacks anymore. Here it’s important that you don’t avoid situations where you get panic attacks. Facing them is the only way to overcome them.
E: Expect the best.
Get positive! Positive thinking does wonders, both in physical and in mental levels. Notice even the tiniest improvements in your condition, acknowledge them and celebrate them! The only way is up!
The AWARE method helps you make distance between you and your panic attack and anxiety. Eventually your mind will learn that panic attack is not a big deal. The sooner you start, the sooner you will feel yourself more relaxed and more in control of your own mind.
But wait, there is still another strategy from CBT that might help you: look at the things that you are afraid of, and assess if they are logical fears. Does panic attack really cause heart attack? – No. Do people laugh at you if you pass out? – Absolutely not.
Also this CBT method makes you to think logically about what is happening to you and around you, and it’s a great way to change the way you respond to the burst of stress hormones.
By practicing the above mentioned methods you will notice your panic attacks to appear less often and they will be less severe.
Still not sure how to start? Would need somebody hold your hand and help you take the first steps? Then PanicMiracle program is for you! You will get a 250-page ebook full of guaranteed methods to help you (choose the ones that you like most!); you will get relaxation recordings, the ultimate guide for stress relief and the best: you will get a 3 month private email counseling with the author himself!
There is no single reason to suffer from panic attacks when there is a guaranteed way to get rid of them. I suffered from panic attacks for over two decades and now I haven’t had a single panic attack for almost a decade, thanks to the efficient self-help methods I’ve used! I’ve talked in public to several hundreds of people, without experiencing a single panic attack. You can do it, too!
Don’t wait another day, you deserve anxiety-free life! I wish you all the best on your way to quick recovery!