Wednesday, July 18, 2012

People and Panic Attacks

  I have dealt with anxiety disorder since I was around the age of 12 when I experienced my first panic attack.  I remember it very clearly; walking into the dining room, suddenly feeling light-headed and weak thinking that my blood sugar had dropped so I should get something to eat.  Suddenly, I felt the urge to cry and I had no reason to do so.  I then began feeling a little depressed and a little scared and my chest tightened as I knelt down, still feeling a bit weak.  I began to breathe uncontrollably and tears came out of my eyes as I gasped for breath.
  Slowly, I lost feeling in my hands and feet, then my arms and legs, and I fell over from my kneeling position.  I was shaking and I was a bit scared, not understanding what was happening.  I tried to get myself back up, but I felt immobile; my limbs wouldn't move and I felt so heavy.  I wanted to call for someone to come get me, but it was so hard for me to speak.  I started thinking the worst, that maybe I was having a seizure, or a heart attack, or worse.
  This went on for a good 15 minutes until I started to calm down, realizing that I was okay.  I felt very weak and I could feel muscles in my lips and face and limbs spasming a little.  I was still shaking, but my breathing was starting to slow down.  After a few minutes, I started to get feeling back into my hands and legs, but I still felt too weak to move, even though I did not feel as heavy as I did just a few minutes before.  I lay there for a few more minutes wondering what on earth just happened, my face still wet with tears.

  That was the first time I experienced a panic attack.  Since then, I have dealt with these suckers regularly.  There have been times in high school where I would have them multiple times a week for months.  At other times in my life, I would go months without having one, only for one to sneak up on me without a reason.  Luckily, there have been a few people I can trust that have been able to sit by me while those happen and help me recover quicker than usual.  There is a way to help people who have panic attacks - regularly or not - and even though they are not life threatening, it is important for someone to be there for the person who needs help.

  More people today suffer from anxiety disorder like I do.  Some other may not have the actual disorder, but have experienced a panic attack before.  It's a frightening experience when you don't know what is going on.  You may have heard people describing an attack as a feeling of dying.  Well like I said, I can assure you that a panic attack has never led to someone's death.  However, for those of you who have experienced a panic attack before, and for those of you who might be around when someone has one,  you may or may not know the signs, or what to do to help.  Here, I will explain some basic pointers on how to recognize what is happening and what you can do for yourself to stay calm.  I will also inform you on how you help somebody else when they are experiencing a panic attack - all are very simple.

  Panic attacks are caused by a broad range of things, from depression to smelling a flower.  These are most reasons why an individual might have a panic attack:
  • People who have suffered depression are more likely to have problems with a disorder such as this because of the chemical changes in the brain made from depression. 
  • A constantly stressed place (maybe a rough home life, or a tense workplace, etc.) and feeling the need to release that stress and not knowing how can prompt a panic attack. 
  • Chocolate and caffeine!  It sucks!  If you have the actual disorder, staying away from these things help tons!!
  • Lack of sleep (proper sleep) does not help at all.  Especially if you are stressed out on a regular basis, getting at least eight (8) hours of sleep every night can reduce your chance of having sudden panic attacks.
  • Unfortunately, there are times that absolutely nothing seems to prompt a panic attack - it just happens out of nowhere.  These are, without realizing it it, probably caused by something you see/smell/or hear that prompts a stressful memory that you couldn't handle, and your body goes into panic mode.
  It is important to understand that you cannot control a panic attack once it starts.  However, you can tell the warning signs for when one might be coming.  Here are some ways you may feel right before a panic attack occurs, and what you could do to help yourself stay calm:
  • You may suddenly feel light-headed or dizzy, maybe even a little nautious.  When this happens, sit down and rest your head in your hands and try to keep you breathing steady.  Don't get back up for another 20 minutes, or however long it takes for you to feel fine again.
  • For a good half hour (or maybe more) before you start feeling light-headed, you may feel extreme emotional change within yourself.  This might mean that you suddenly feel really depressed and can;t explain it, or you may feel really crabby, or get easily frustrated - a number of drastic mood changes that are all negative.  Make sure you are aware of this sudden change in your mood so that you can brace yourself (and others) for what's coming.
  • Right before an attack, you may feel a bit jittering, and you may shiver lightly from feeling cold - even if you aren't cold where you are at.
  • When any of these things happen, the best thing to do is to sit downn somewhere and focus on keeping calm.  Keep your breathing slow and steady, and think about positive things about yourself.
  Although you cannot necessarily prevent a panic attack, you can control its severity and longevity if you stay calm right before one comes.  When it finally comes, though, think about what you are about to expect: crying, shivering, tightening chest, tight breathing, loss of feeling in your hands and feet, and so on.  It might seem a little scary at first, but preparing yourself mentally for what is about to happen makes things a little easier.  Panic attacks usually last no longer than 20 or 30 minutes at the worst.  You will be able to tell that you are calming down because your breathing is becoming easier, your fingers and toes start tingling, your hands may feel like they are locking up, and the tightening in your chest is going away.

  When it's over and your breathing has regulated and your sensations have returned to normal, stay sitting still for a few more minutes, and try not to move too much.  When you feel that you are mobile enough to lift a glass, it is a good idea to drink some water, and also some sprite - NOTHING CAFFEINATED (you can trigger it again because it is still too soon after to have caffeine!)  For the next few hours, or maybe even the rest of the day, you may still feel just a tad weak, and you will more than likely feel tired - that is normal.  Take a nap if it is possible; if not, go to bed very early that night so that you can get the rest you need to recover.

  It is very important for you to have someone near you when all of this is happening.  It may be a bit embarrassing but, you should be safe about it more than you should worry about embarrassment.  Although panic attacks cannot kill you, you have a great possibility of falling on something that breaks a bone or cracks your skull, and so on.  You will not be able to control your mobility for some time, so anything can happen.  In the worst cases - rest assured, it is very rare - if a panic attack lasts too long and gets to be so severe, you could have a seizure.  This is so rare that you may never ever hear of this happening, but it is still possible.  For those who don't know what do to do to help, it is simple.  When you see someone having a panic attack, or someone tells you that they are, here are things you can do to hepl them:
  • Help them find somewhere they can sit down.  Try to keep them sitting up, not falling forwards, or to the side - they may not be able to hold themselves up.
  • Stay quiet for the most part, at least not yelling at them or talking loudly.  Instead, say encouraging things to them, reminding them of how good a person they are and letting them know that what is happening is not their fault, that everything is going to be okay.
  • Whatever you do, do not leave them!  If something bad happens, make sure you have a phone nearby to call someone, or call an ambulance.
  • You need to stay calm!  They are the ones panicking, and they will be just fine in a few minutes.  If you stay calm, you can help them start to feel calm too.
  • When they are able to move their hands again and their breathing has slowed, ask if they want some water, or see if there are any non-caffeinated sodas around, like Sprite or Ginger Ale.  Help them take little sips as they are able to breathe regularly again.
  • Even after the attack is over, stay with them and make sure they are okay.
  Being there for someone is a simple enough job.  And ultimately, how you react to their panic effects a lot in how their panic attack happens. 

  One more thing to understand is this: there is a difference between having a panic attack, having anxiety disorder, and having panic disorder.  They act as three different levels.  The most common is the panic attack.
  Anyone can have a panic attack, no matter what.  Some people might even have a handful of panic attacks throughout their life.  However, this does not mean that they have a disorder.  Panic attacks are common ways for our body to relieve stress when we don't know how. 
  A person who has consistent panic attacks - in other words, someone who experiences multiple panic attacks every couple of months or less for a long period of time - has anxiety disorder.  These people have a disorder because the chemical makeup in their brain has changed a little from some outside stress.  They experience a panic attack often enough to be able to tell and expect when they might have one.  Less people have anxiety disorder than there are people who have had panic attacks (if that makes sense).
  Someone who experiences emotional, mental, or even physical damage from recurring panic attacks has panic disorder.  While very similar to anxiety disorder, having panic attacks often on a regular basis, people who suffer from panic disorder are crippled by panic attacks.  They are emotionally unstable as they experience more panic, they can have slightly impaired thinking at times, and in the worst cases, they can have physical crippling, such as muscle growth issues, incontrollable twitching, and abnormal sweeling (as in lymph nodes).  These people also live in constant fear of having a panic attack because they have panic attacks more often thatn anyone.  Walking outside, for instance, can immediately trigger a panic attack.  This is the worst of the level of panic, and is less common than anxiety disorder, but it is still common enough to be aware of.

  If you treat yourself well by sleeping apporpriately, eating correctly, avoiding caffeine, and exercising, you reduce your risk of experiencing a panic attack to relieve stress.  However, it is possible for anyone to have a panic attack, and when it happens, it is good to understand the signs, and how to help.


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