Breath freezes, it seems that the heart will jump out of the chest, dizzy, throw in the heat or cold … Have you ever experienced something like this? All these are symptoms of a panic attack, an acute reaction to experiencing anxiety or fear.
About how often there are panic attacks, why they appear and whether it is possible to cope with them, says Ekaterina Milushina, clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, a specialist in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.
1. Panic attacks are not uncommon
To overtake a panic attack can anywhere – at work, in a store, in a subway car or in your own kitchen. According to statistics, every fifth person on the planet experienced any symptoms of a panic attack. They suffer from people of both sexes and almost all ages: from adolescents to the elderly.
Expert comment: Of course, not everyone, though having experienced a panic attack, falls ill with a panic disorder, that is, begins to experience seizures regularly. However, panic disorder is quite widespread, according to different data, they suffer from 2-5% of the population. My experience shows that lately the disorder is getting younger, more and more often schoolchildren of early adolescence 11-13 years old are asking for help.
2. There are factors that increase the likelihood of panic attacks
Indeed, people experiencing panic attacks are more likely to grow up in hyper-responsive families. Senior family members try to protect the child from any difficulties while inspiring him with the idea of the danger of the world around him. Another group of risk – families with unpredictable behavior, which use drugs and alcohol.
Expert comment: In general, panic disorder affects anxious people, with beliefs of their own weakness and vulnerability, as well as a sense of hostility in the world around them.
3. People suffering from panic attacks are tormented by fears
The most common fears among such patients are the fear of dying from a heart attack or stroke, the fear of looking ridiculous or inadequate, the fear of going insane or behaving incorrectly.
Expert comment: It is worth noting that the symptoms and sensations during an attack always coincide with the leading fear. That is, if a person is afraid of a heart attack, he will feel tachycardia and unpleasant sensations in the heart, and if the main fear is insanity, then there will be symptoms such as derealization and depersonalization. After a scandalous, widely covered in the media situation with a nanny who cut off the head of a child, there were frequent cases of treatment of mothers with fear of harming their children and the fear of staying with them alone. They complain that they feel somehow changed, not as usual – they feel depersonalization. It seems to these women that the symptoms are evidence of their inadequacy and the ability to harm the baby. In reality, these symptoms are caused by fear, the woman controls herself completely (and does not feel any desire to harm her beloved child), and the child remains fully safe.
4. You can not die from panic attacks
It seems that the symptoms of a panic attack are so terrible and painful that it could threaten death. In reality, this is not the case in spite of the suffering they cause, one can not die from a panic attack.
Ignore panic attacks, too, cannot (and it is unlikely that it will). The situation may get worse – fear of the panic attack itself will appear, this condition will occur more and more and last longer. The other extreme is the refusal to visit those places in which panic attacks occur. In particularly serious cases, a person can stop using public transport, go to the store and work. His world is reduced to the limits of his own apartment or even a room, and the circle of communication is narrowed to a few people. Gradually, a person loses communication and self-service skills.
Expert comment: The main worsening factor in panic disorder is indeed the avoidance mechanism, if a person goes on about it, sooner or later it loses its efficiency and becomes completely dependent on relatives. That is why, along with coping with fears, a large part of the treatment is training in “terrible” places and situations aimed at overcoming avoidance and expanding the living space.
5. Panic attacks are treated
Yes, you can handle them. Treat the panic attacks of psychotherapists, but patients are not always the first thing to go to this specialist. Pain in the chest, shortness of breath and other symptoms they take for problems with the heart or blood vessels, and therefore go to the cardiologist, neurologist, and other doctors.
Often, a psychotherapist gets a person after he was ineffectively examined by doctors of other specialties, or even after undergoing a complete examination with the delivery of tests and a lot of research.
The patient must himself want to recover, that is, cooperate with the doctor. In most cases (70%), improvements occur after the first session, and 90% of patients become better after the second session. Further meetings between the doctor and the patient are necessary to consolidate the effect.
Of course, the help of relatives in such a situation is necessary. Relatives and friends should not laugh at fears, should not devalue the emotions of those who experience panic attacks. Talking about what it takes to “just get together”, “overpower yourself” and “pull yourself together” to patients with panic attacks is useless. Instead, it is better to talk about the possibilities of treatment, help to find a specialist and strongly support the desire to cope with the problem.
Expert comment: Indeed panic attacks are well treated. Here the main thing is to find the right specialist. Therapy of the first choice for the treatment of panic attacks is a cognitive-behavioral approach. Pharmacological treatment also shows good results. However, most of my clients do not need it, more than two-thirds of the clients who address me recover, without resorting to tranquilizers and antidepressants.