Tension rises, everything blurs before your eyes, and sweat breaks out: What to do when you’re having a panic attack and how to avoid severe anxiety.
The fear comes as if out of the blue – this is how sufferers who struggle with panic attacks feel. But the signs of it announce themselves far in advance: Therefore, it is important to observe yourself and pull the "emergency brake" beforehand.
What can help you with panic attacks immediately and in the long term, we explain to you here.
From the feeling of fear to panic disorder
"Anxiety is a normal human emotional state such as love, joy, anger, rage or sadness and usually occurs as a reaction to threatening, uncertain or uncontrollable events and situations."
This is how clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. Hans Morschitzky the feeling of fear in his book on anxiety disorders. So it is a natural reaction of the body to respond to danger quickly and effectively.
Fear protects us and helps us to remain capable of acting in acute stressful situations: Either to flee or to face the danger. About 100 years ago, the U.S. physiologist Walter Cannon formulated this principle as a "fight-or-flight" reaction, a human reflex in the event of danger to life and limb.
But at what point does one speak of an anxiety disorder, i.e. a pathological development of the feeling of anxiety?? Whenever anxiety occurs over a longer period of time, even in seemingly harmless situations, places a heavy burden on those affected and limits them in their daily lives.
In psychology, two types of anxiety disorders are distinguished:
- Anxiety disorders with a specific trigger, so-called phobias, for example, against spiders, flies or syringes
- Anxiety disorders without a specific trigger, which include panic disorder (and the accompanying panic attacks) and so-called generalized anxiety disorder
Panic disorders often occur together with other mental illnesses, such as depression, social phobias or other anxiety disorders. A large proportion of patients with panic disorder also have claustrophobia (agoraphobia). This fear often occurs in crowds, in public places or even, for example, in elevators.
In many cases, those affected suffer from the idea that they could experience a panic attack at any time, so much so that they begin to avoid confined spaces, crowds or long journeys. Sometimes the fear of the panic attack goes so far that those affected no longer want to leave their homes.
What are panic attacks and what are the symptoms??
The causes of panic attacks are manifold. For example, genetic factors are known for this. People who were already rather anxious as a child are unfortunately more likely to suffer from panic disorders. But certain substances such as nicotine or caffeine can also promote panic attacks.
These physical and psychological symptoms can occur during a panic attack:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath, shallow breathing
- weak knees
- feeling of suffocation
- Eye flicker
- numbness and tingling sensations
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Dry mouth
- Hot flashes
- Tightness in the chest and throat
- Fear of going mad or losing control
- Fear of dying
- Derealization: The familiar environment suddenly seems strange
- Depersonalization: The own person is perceived as alien
A panic attack rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes. Many attacks subside after just a few minutes – but in extreme cases, a panic attack can last for several hours.
The frequency also varies: Some sufferers tend to have daily panic attacks, while others experience this condition less frequently, such as once a month or several times a year.
Have symptoms checked out by a doctor
If you experience any of the above symptoms, be sure to consult a doctor. This can clarify whether symptoms such as shortness of breath or sweating have organic or psychological causes. If he diagnoses a panic disorder, he can initiate specific further treatment steps.
Panic attack: 5 immediate measures for emergencies
Talk yourself down: say to yourself, "Hey, it’s perfectly okay for me to have a panic attack. Other people sometimes feel the same way."You will see that with a little practice you will be able to weaken the feeling of fear a little.
Radical acceptance: Acceptance creates room for change. When you "radically" embrace the panic attack, you bring some calm to the situation. By the way, this accepting attitude is not only helpful in case of panic attacks, but also in other strongly stressful situations.
Do breathing exercises: When you feel panic, you automatically breathe more shallowly. Focus on the airflow and breathe deeply in and out – it’s calming! The 4-6-8 technique is also helpful: Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for six seconds and exhale for eight seconds.
Panic attack emergency kit: Apply so-called "skills" that can get you out of the strong feeling of anxiety and regulate your tension. This can be a feel-good scent, beautiful music, the spiciness of a chili pepper or even pain stimuli, for example by tying a rubber band around your wrist, pulling on it and letting go again. (Important: The pain stimulus must not lead to injuries). Find out what can help you best to break the negative train of thought.
Distract yourself: You may feel uncomfortable talking to strangers during a panic attack – but on the one hand it distracts you, on the other hand they can help you to concentrate on something else. Other ways to distract yourself include counting backwards or reciting visible objects of a certain color.
Of course, you can always go to the nearest emergency room with an attached psychiatric outpatient clinic or call 911.
Prevent panic attacks: With these 7 tips to more self-care
It may feel like it sometimes – but you are not at the mercy of your feelings, but can actively mitigate strong emotions such as fear and, at best, transform them.
This is especially important to keep the state of tension at a "normal level" as much as possible, so that you don’t get into the high stress zone and have a panic attack.
Sure, a healthy lifestyle is recommended for everyone – but especially with anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses, it’s unavoidable to take good care of yourself and look after yourself. The following tips can help you mitigate or even avoid panic attacks altogether:
Pay attention to sufficient sleep and on a healthy Nutrition.
More Sports and exercise: Get your head clear while bouldering or stand-up paddling.
Learn, Thinking more positively and transform negative thoughts with the help of encouraging phrases (positive affirmations).
Learn, more mindful to be, for example with journaling or other mindfulness exercises from the podcast "Lebe Balance" of the AOK Baden-Wurttemberg.
Create pleasant balance in nature and/or with animals, for example on hiking trails in the Black Forest, on alpaca hikes or on a trip to barefoot trails.
Try different Relaxation techniques for example, progressive muscle relaxation or autogenic training.
Try to talk to your partner, family or friends about what is bothering you. Deal openly with the fact that you have panic attacks.
Help with panic attacks: Contact points in Baden-Wurttemberg
Many people with panic disorder wait a long time before seeking medical or therapeutic help. They are ashamed, afraid of therapy or think they can "handle" the panic themselves.
But the sooner a panic disorder is treated, the better the prospect of living a more anxiety-free life. The AOK Baden-Wurttemberg supports you. Find out here about the treatment option of outpatient psychotherapy.
In addition, you have the possibility of looking for a therapist yourself to find out whether and which form of therapy is suitable for you. Click here to find an online therapist in Baden-Wurttemberg.
In the wake of the Corona crisis and the associated increase in psychological problems, the state of Baden-Wurttemberg has set up a hotline for sufferers. Experts advise you on the number 0800 377 377 6 Free from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. In addition, you can contact the AOK-MedTelefon at any time with medical questions.