Definition of a Panic Attack
Learning how to overcome a panic attack begins with understanding some basic facts about panic attacks in general. The most basic definition of a panic attack is that it is the body’s natural reaction to a threat, whether the threat is real or imagined. Usually preceded by a period of intense stress, the body will release adrenaline, or epinephrine, to prepare the body to escape from what it perceives as danger. The result is increased heart rate, sweating, difficulty catching one’s breath, chest pains, blood pressure abnormalities, feelings of impending death, overwhelming terror, tingling in the hands and feet, and sometimes even losing consciousness.
In days long gone, the reaction to a panic attack was very simple; use the surge of adrenaline to run away from danger, such as approaching a sabre tooth cat. Today, it is not acceptable to physically push our chairs back and run out of a stressful business meeting or to run away during an argument, as much as we would like to. Instead, we have to teach ourselves how to overcome a panic attack.
Causes of a Panic Attack
Many of the symptoms a person feels during a panic attack are caused by hyperventilation. Rapid, shallow breathing causes the body to take in too much oxygen and results in headaches, chest pains and tingling extremities. As the attack progresses, the inability to take a deep, refreshing breath causes more fear, which in turn leads to more hyperventilation. This cycle must be stopped; controlled breathing is the most important factor in learning how to overcome a panic attack. Focusing on breathing has two benefits: the first is to reverse the vicious cycle of hyperventilation, and the second is to divert the mind by giving it something solid on which to concentrate. A simple way to regain control of breathing is to actively hold your breath as long as you can, release it, and hold it again. At first, the amount of time you can hold your breath will be very short but as you continue the exercise, it will gradually grow longer. Very soon, you will be breathing normally and the attack will subside.
Finding personal triggers is another key in learning how to overcome a panic attack. Knowing what situations are likely to cause the attacks will allow you to mentally prepare for them, and the unsettling element of surprise will be taken out of the equation.
How to Identify the Symptoms of a Panic Attack
If the attacks are too frequent, a mental health professional can be very helpful in teaching you both how to overcome a panic attack and identifying the triggers that cause them. Behavior modifications will be discussed such as implementing an exercise routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and getting enough restful sleep. Aromatherapy, soothing music, meditation and calming natural supplements will be considered as well. All of these are powerful tools in relieving the stress that can lead to panic attacks. If the attacks are severe and occur too frequently, medications may be prescribed as well. Therapists have a success rate of over 90% in treating recurrent panic attacks; they are a very valuable resource in stress management and anxiety reduction.
Most people who suffer panic attacks feel embarrassed, ashamed, and helpless. It is important to understand that while the episode is a natural reaction caused by the body itself, you can actively take steps and learn how to overcome a panic attack.
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