- Sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behaviour.
Panic is something we all feel from time to time, and is a natural response in certain situations when we feel afraid. It is a direct result of anxiety, so the more anxious you are the more likely you are to panic; serious levels of panic manifests itself in the form of a panic attack.
We start to panic because we regard the symptoms of anxiety as dangerous; for example, if you fear having a heart attack, you may fear that the pounding heart (a normal symptom of anxiety) is the beginning of an actual heart attack; this then causes further anxiety, making the situation worse, escalating a situation you view as dangerous to feeling that something disastrous, or catastrophic is going to happen.
How do you know if you are having a panic attack?
- During a panic attack you experience intense fear or terror.
- An attack can come on suddenly with little or no warning.
- You experience very intense feelings, which generally pass after 5 or 10 minutes. It may not feel quick when you have a panic attack, and it can make you feel very drained.
- During an attack, you feel that something terrible is going to happen to you, or has already happened to you. You may display a number of physical symptoms, and have thoughts which make the panic worse.
Some common physical symptoms of panic include:
- A racing heart.
- Feeling faint and dizzy.
- Feeling short of breath.
- Feeling sick or nauseous.
- Feeling that you need to get to a toilet in a hurry.
- Experiencing hot flushes.
- Experiencing numbness or tingling in your fingertips and toes.
- Feeling disconnected from your environment, as if you are not really present, or the environment is somehow different or strange.
- Sweating (palms of your hands, armpits and/or your forehead).
- Feeling weak and shaky.
Some common thoughts you may experience:
- Having a heart attack.
- Going to collapse or faint.
- Hyperventilating, feeling you are suffocating and struggling to breathe.
- About to lose control of your bladder or bowels.
- You are going to choke.
- You feel you are going mad.
- You are going to vomit.
- You may lose control and do something crazy.
- You may make a fool of yourself in front of others.
Once you have experienced a panic attack, you may then worry about having further panic attacks, and therefore become more sensitive to the normal symptoms of anxiety; this can then make you behave differently in order to reduce the risk of having a panic attack:
- You may have an overwhelming need to escape the situation and find a place of safety.
- You may decide to avoid places or situations where you have experienced panic attacks.
One of the biggest difficulties for people suffering with anxiety and panic is that you can appear perfectly normal at times which then makes it hard for others to understand what the problem is; because you try and avoid situations when you are more likely to have a panic attack then people do not see you suffering. If you have a broken arm, you have a cast, so it is clear what you are suffering with.
The situations or events that cause you to have a panic attack are called triggers, some people may only have one or two triggers; if your condition is more severe, like myself, you can have a lot of triggers.
I can start to become anxious and panic for no reason; this level of anxiety means that I am terrified if I think about or am confronted with any number of situations from getting on the underground by myself, bumping into someone I know on the high road to thinking about doing the simplest of tasks.
Time pressures are a big problem; as soon as I feel I have too much to do, and there is not enough time, then I get really anxious.
Because my panic was caused by work related stress, I feel real terror whenever I think about working or getting another job; I have had a panic attack from simply seeing someone wearing a suit, my mind immediately related this to work.
The more you become anxious and panic, the worse the feelings get; this is called the ‘Panic Cycle’. Below is the basics panic cycle, and after that the panic cycle when I experienced my first panic attack so you can see an example of how it works:
I hope that this has given you a basic insight into panic? The above information came from a booklet that an NHS therapist gave me, ‘An Introduction to Coping With Panic’ by Charles Young.
When I started having serious panic attacks I was terrified because I did not know what was happening to me, I thought something had snapped in my brain, so it was a relief to read the booklet, and gain some understanding of what was happening to me.
I will explore what to do when you or someone you see is having a panic attack later.
In the mean time…..
Thank you, thank you, thank you