As we discussed in the last post – panic attacks feel awful. Once you’ve had one, the last thing you ever want is to have another.
Unfortunately – when you start to worry about having another panic attack, you get more anxious and tense, and that puts you at higher risk of having more.
One of the reasons that people get so concerned, is that they worry about what could happen when they panic. The three biggest fears are:
– What if I pass out?
– What if I go crazy?
– What if I get a heart attack and die?
It’s important and potentially helpful to know that a panic attack can’t cause any of these things.
When you have a panic attack, your breathing gets quick and shallow, which makes you feel dizzy; this can make you feel like you’re going to pass out. But – during panic, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure goes up. You can’t pass out when your blood pressure goes up – to pass out, your blood pressure needs to drop. So, nothing to fear behind door #1.
Going “crazy” means losing your grip on reality. In a panic attack, you’re painfully aware of every detail of the reality of what’s happening to you. No danger there – you’re not going to lose your marbles from a panic attack.
Fear of having a heart attack and dying is often the biggest fear that goes with panic attacks. Look – panic feels so awful, it’s understandable to think that you must be dying. It’s pretty common for people having panic attacks to end up in the emergency room, thinking it’s a heart attack. So – let’s go through this, step by step.
– Panic feels awful, but is not dangerous. It cannot kill you, as bad as it feels to go through it.
– If you’re having a panic attack, using deep breathing and relaxation strategies can make you feel better in a few minutes. If it’s a heart attack, relaxation and deep breathing won’t make a difference. (Yes, this is another reason why I keep carrying on about the importance of relaxation – if you never do it, it’s hard to know how while you’re in the middle of a panic attack…)
– Panic almost always starts with quick shallow breathing (hyperventilating). With a heart attack, you don’t hyperventilate.
– Your body might feel tingly all over with panic. With a heart attack, this is more focused, in your left arm.
– Chest pain is different: panic comes with a sharp pain that comes and goes. Heart attack comes with a constant, crushing pain that feels like an elephant is sitting in the middle of your chest.
If you’re not sure what’s happening to you, by all means go to the emergency room; but, if your ticker’s been checked out and is in good shape, and you know that what you’re having is panic attacks, then learning the facts about panic, and using self-talk to remind yourself of this stuff while you’re dealing with a panic attack, becomes an important tool in helping yourself to make them go away faster, happen less often, and eventually, get rid of them.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
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Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.
One thought on “Panic Attacks: Fears and Facts”
when i used to get them steady i would run. this solved 2 problems kind of helped with fitness and got me out of the house and away from people i was always scared i might hurt. i know you said you cant go crazy and your actually aware of everything which is true however it does from my personal experiences amplify any current emotions you have or that caused the attack. Therefore if i was feeling depressed it would make it worse and if i was angry it would make that worse as well. then when its all over you just feel exhausted with the emotions. do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the after effects of the panic attack? (ie. the family trying to care you to death and how to explain to your spouse it wasnt they’re fault) while trying not to have another one from the extra stress added from those?