Panic attack symptoms, hope and help for your nerves
You may be in the supermarket, your friend’s wedding, in an airplane or at an interview. Out of the blue, you’re suddenly having palpitations, sweating and having difficulty breathing, You feel you might faint, your mouth is dry and you can’t swallow, you feel something terrible is happening and you might die. You run out the door for your life.
There is nothing particularly unnatural about having a panic attack. Actually, most of the symptoms are caused by the body’s fight or flight response; a very primitive function of our brains that protects us from danger. The urge to flee, the pounding heart and sweating are all responses the body should have if approached by a hungry tiger or in the midst of an accident. They prepare the body to defend itself and mobilize you for survival.
Most of these physical symptoms are caused by the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands near the kidneys. Usually, once the danger has passed, within a few minutes, the effects of adrenaline in the blood stream will subside and our blood chemistry will return to normal. The symptoms usually don’t register as alarming if there is an actual danger. You most likely would be too busy running away or protecting yourself. The problem arises when this response happens with a minor threat or the simple stresses of everyday life. There are no tigers in a supermarket, but the body can react as though there was one. This is how panic disorder begins.
When the body’s alarm system kicks in even though there is no threat, when the attack happens and there isn’t an earthquake or attacker but you’re just sitting quietly in movie or in a classroom and there is no way to explain what could possibly have triggered this awful feeling, making you want to run, flee or feel you will lose control, not only of your bowels but of your mind, then there is a problem.
The good news is that panic attacks usually only last for a few minutes, even though it may feel like hours. What happens though is that the symptoms are so alarming, a secondary fear arises and that fear initiates the release of the stress hormones all over again. Since there is no tiger, or earthquake, the sufferer can’t place the cause of the fear, so the brain looks for the source of the threat and finds none. This is when the sufferer will look inside himself to find the threat and this is where generalized panic disorder begins.
After panic becomes generalized, one’s attention is constantly on the body and the terrifying symptoms; the “lump in the throat”, the dry mouth, the tight chest muscles, the inability to take a deep breath. The sufferer then becomes afraid of the symptoms. More fear, more adrenaline, more symptoms, more fear, more adrenaline; until finally they are exhausted. As this cycle progresses the sufferer is on a continual lookout for symptoms during the day for fear the experience will suddenly creep up again.
As the adrenals get exhausted, the sufferer becomes tired, may start to lose sleep, and eventually lose faith in themselves and life. And since most panic sufferers tend to be perfectionists, the attack ends up as a huge blow to their ego. They feel they are no longer in control of themselves and feel vulnerable.
This doesn’t all start in one day but is accumulative over many days or years. Sufferers may have been worriers or very sensitive creative people who feel things more than others do. The stress builds, the adrenals become sensitized to firing off at the slightest provocation and the disorder begins. Friends and family have a hard time understanding it. They’ll tell you it’s in your mind and to pull yourself together. And though some panics develop from stressful thoughts or memories in your mind. the panic sufferer knows the symptoms are quite real.
Most books on panic disorder describe how hard it is to explain the terrible symptoms to friends and family. Most experts suggest not spending time trying to make them understand. Unless your friend or family member has injected the equivalent of a dozen cups of coffee and then tried to calm down, they probably won’t be able to understand what you are going through.
Many people with severe panic disorder end up in emergency rooms and after routine tests are sent home with sedatives or a prescription for anti-depressants. Others end up at their doctor’s office in pieces and are given various pharmaceuticals. Though doctors can diagnose this disorder and assure you are otherwise healthy, they may not guide you on how to cure yourself of the underlying issues so you can be cured.
Antidepressants and sedatives are a temporary measure to calm you down until you work on the issues behind the stressors and teach yourself to deal with the panic and stress. They weren’t meant to be permanent solutions. There is a way to cure yourself of panic disorder without drugs and sleeping pills and you won’t have to suffer your entire life. Millions of people around the world have cured themselves of panic disorder.
Dr. Claire Weekes was nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine for her method on curing panic disorder. Here is a distillation of advice from her invaluable book, “Hope and Help for Your Nerves”:
The first thing that is necessary is to educate oneself about the symptoms. The sufferer has to understand that all the symptoms are caused by the release of adrenaline in response to a fear, real or imaginary. Once one understands that the symptoms are not caused by disease, (after a thorough check-up), the sufferer must educate his mind about the symptoms so that he won’t create the secondary fear. When you know the symptoms are caused by adrenaline and will subside in a few minutes, you can wait it out.
Symptoms of panic
The most common symptoms of panic are the following:
Shortness of breath: Your chest muscles tighten up and you can’t take a deep breath. You may feel if you don’t force yourself to breathe you will die. Even shallow breathing still oxygenates your blood but this may lead to hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation: This happens when you breathe shallowly. The CO2 balance in the body becomes disturbed and this creates dizziness, tingling hands and even muscles to spasm and tighten up. The best way to deal with these symptoms is to take deep breaths from the diaphragm or in an emergency to breathe for a few minutes into a paper bag. The CO2 levels will balance after a few minutes of breathing like this and the symptoms will slowly subside.
Heart beating too fast, fluttering, or skipped beats: Your heart may start to beat incredibly fast and you may fear you’re having a heart attack. Actually, a healthy heart can beat like that for days. And if you don’t fear this symptom, it will subside along with the other symptoms when you calm down.
Trembling and shaking, dizziness and wobbly legs: You may feel your legs are wobbly and like rubber. Don’t be fooled by them. They will get you across the street. The sensation is not muscular weakness, but nervous weakness.
Hypoglycemia: Because the body is working in overdrive, the brain quickly uses up all its glucose. This creates the trembling and hot shakiness. It is good when having an attack to drink something that will give the body the sugar it needs, like fruit juice. Though lying down for a few minutes will coax the liver to produce enough sugar, it is hard to lie down during a panic. It is also a good idea, when suffering from panic disorder, to eat well and take vitamins, especially B vitamins and C. The adrenal glands need vitamin C to repair themselves and the B vitamins keep the nervous system healthy.
Choking, lump in throat, nausea: You might feel something is stuck in your throat and you can’t swallow. This has a bad side-effect of making you not want to eat, which makes for an upset stomach and nausea. The lump is not real; it is a nervous sensation. You can eat, even with the dry mouth, lump and nausea. Just eat small bites and slowly. You will feel better if you eat something and you need the nourishment especially with the added strain on your blood sugar stores. Even a yogurt eaten slowly over a couple hours is helpful.
Frequent urination, stomach upset: You may have a heavy feeling in your stomach and run to the bathroom a few times. You may feel you want to throw up. This is just the body’s response to prepare that “fight and flight” response. With empty bowels and stomach you are lighter and can run faster.
Sweating, hot flashes: You may sweat profusely. Sweat cools the body down, it is natural. Also, sweat (if we flashback back to those prehistoric days), would make you slippery and difficult to catch if you were been chased by a beast.
Unusual thoughts, afraid of normal things, not feeling oneself, depression, loss of faith: Because the panic response activates a very primitive portion of our brains, it doesn’t help rational thinking. It activates the part of our brains that is not much smarter than a reptile. So, don’t count of having clear thoughts. This is also not the time to think about your life and other people. You may lose faith in yourself and life and God. The best thing to do is to distract yourself and concentrate more on relieving your symptoms through deep breathing, resting and exercise.
Headache, band around head, hair hurting: These are just tense muscles in your head; you are not having a stroke.
Agoraphobia: Fear of going out with friends and out in open spaces or crowded places like theaters or on buses and trains can be a problem. The stuffiness or changes in temperature can all trigger a panic attack and we don’t want to look like we are crazy in front of others. Usually a panic sufferer feels safer at home. If you learn to deal with your symptoms in low stress activities like walking a little farther everyday away from your home alone or going to the supermarket in stages, you will slowly gain confidence that you can deal with your symptoms quickly without creating the secondary fear. Eventually, you will be able to go out with your friends again. But give yourself time.
Sleeping disorders: You may not sleep. Or you may sleep for a few hours and wake up at 3 in the morning. You may toss and turn all night. The best thing to do is to exercise a bit so your body is tired enough to sleep deeply. If you can’t get to sleep, don’t fight it. Get up and read a book or watch a funny movie. Take a warm bath and drink hot milk or chamomile tea. If you have to take a sleeping pill take one, but try to cut them down little by little as you get better every day. The morning is usually the worst time for a panic sufferer. You hope to wake up and be normal again. Taking score is a wrong approach. You will get better. But don’t keep score. Mornings are hard. Get out of bed immediately when you wake up so you don’t fret over worries half awake in bed. Get up, make your breakfast, and get on with your day. Don’t look for symptoms first thing in the morning. The morning depressed feeling is usually the last thing to go. When you no longer have that; you’re probably cured.
After learning about the symptoms and understanding the cause, the next step is self care. A good diet and light exercise (which helps the brain secrete endorphins) will helps one’s mental state. Also light exercise will also help the body release the toxins caused by adrenaline. After getting your symptoms under control and no longer creating the secondary fear, you can work on the issues, emotions and beliefs that caused the worry and stress in the first place.
So, desensitize your nervous system and then move on to uncovering the deeper issues or lifestyle changes needed. In the end, you will be a stronger person.
Remember, you are already a strong person to have lived with such terrifying symptoms for so long. When you finally get through this, you will always know what to do in the future when under stress. You will know how to deal with the symptoms and create a more fulfilling life with less stress and better habits; both mental and physical. So, before getting hooked on various antidepressants and sedatives; educate yourself. There are many great sources of information on the internet. And take the small baby steps to freedom from panic and stress and move on to a more fulfilling life.
Dr. Claire Weekes: Dr Claire Weekes is a seriously respected and internationally renowned expert. Her books, audio tapes, and video are recommended by doctors and used in clinics all over the world. She was the first woman Doctor of Science at Sydney University and her method was so highly regarded that she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
“Hope And Help for Your Nerves” by Claire Weekes
“Pass Through Panic: Freeing Yourself from Anxiety and Fear” by Claire Weekes
Sometimes it’s hard to read when you are in panic mode. This book is a comic book and is easy to read when the brain is functioning under the “fight or flight” response: “Your Survival Guide to Panic Attacks” by Bev Aisbett
The movie, “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss is very funny, Bill Murray plays Bob who suffers from panic disorder and Richard Dreyfuss is the doctor who teaches Bob about “baby steps”.