26 October 2009

Don't Panic!

Last week I came across 3 people who all claimed they suffer from panic attacks. The episodes they described, while cause for concern for each of the individuals, didn't actually sound like full on panic attacks and it got me thinking that everyone needs to be quite careful about how they label some of the things that happen to them each day.

If you begin to think of any slight feelings of anxiety as panic attacks, there's a danger that you won't be able to keep daily challenges that we all face in perspective. So what are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are an extreme version of the natural physiological response - the stress response or 'fight or flight' response. This response is designed to protect us. In times of danger our bodies immediately equip us to either run from a situation or fight our way out of it. The response is sudden and you'll know it's happening if you feel a bit sick, your heart starts to beat faster and you feel a bit sweaty or clammy.

This is normal and a certain level of stress does not do us harm, in fact it helps us to stretch ourselves, challenge ourselves and grow. The response only becomes a problem if the symptoms persist for too long or occur too frequently. If this happens then you may be unable to calm down as each stressful situation aggravates your body and your mind.

At this point it's time to read the blog entry on reducing stress levels

Even at this point though you may not be experiencing panic attacks. A full panic attack is more serious and could make you feel as though you're having a heart attack or a nervous breakdown so be wary of mistaking stressful situations for panic attacks.

If you're concerned that you are in danger of experiencing panic attacks, here's what to do.

  • Keep a pen and paper with you at all times and note down situations that make you anxious. This includes thoughts of forthcoming situations that make you feel edgy, and a review of anything that happened today or this week that made you feel panicked. Build up a picture of how you respond to stress. Do you see stressful situations as a challenge or as something to run away from? Isolate the triggers that cause you to feel stressed or panic. Write down how you cope with these.

  • Analyse how you currently manage stressful situations. Do you resort to caffeine or comfort food? Do you find a quiet place to work through things in your head? Do you use exercise or activity to dissipate feelings of anxiety? Can you think of other ways to deal with stressful situations?

  • Reframe how you think about stress. Stress appears to have become the bad guy but in the right proportions and managed correctly it can help you grow and develop. Work out what level of stress is right in your life and begin to embrace this as a friend. Tell yourself, 'This situation could be called stressful but I chose this path and these feelings are part of my progress through life'. This will help you to recognise more clearly when you are experiencing an unacceptable level of stress and you can then take the appropriate action to reclaim balance.

As you come to understand your personality and how you deal with events that stretch you, you'll be able to create strategies for coping with stress at the right level for you. If you're concerned that your pattern of stress and anxiety is beyond what you are able to cope with, this is the time to seek advice from a medical expert.

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1 comment:

  1. Make a point to relieve stress by seeking out laughter and fun instead of waiting for it to come to you!

    Mike Jsimon, M.D.
    University of Maryland
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