The world feels like it’s spinning, your heart is pounding, and you are confident that death is knocking on your door. What’s going on? Are you having a heart attack, suffering from a sudden illness, or is it a panic attack? According to the Mayo Clinic, most people will experience a panic attack at least once in their lives.
For about one out of 75 people, though, panic attacks are a sign of a serious condition, known as panic disorder. Whether you’ve had a single attack or multiple occurrences, one thing is sure: You want to prevent them from occurring again. Understanding the common triggers for an attack can help you gain peace and calm in your life.
Thinking About a Panic Attack
In some circumstances, anticipation is a positive thing. You looked forward to the winter holidays as a child, and you couldn’t wait for the end of school year. In the case of anxiety, anticipation can do considerably more harm than good. For example, if you experienced a panic attack once, you might be haunted by the fear that you will suffer another one.
For some people, anticipatory anxiety can be sufficient enough to act as a trigger for another attack.
One way to cope with anticipatory anxiety is to learn to stop it dead in its tracks. The next time you find yourself becoming tense and nervous at the thought of “what if?” shift your attention elsewhere. You can do that by forcing yourself to think of something positive or by looking at a photo or image that reminds you of a positive time.
Like anticipatory anxiety, sometimes putting yourself in the same situation where a panic attack happened in the past can be enough to trigger a new attack.
It’s for this reason that people who experience panic attacks tend to avoid everyday situations, such as driving a car, walking on a bridge or even going shopping in a crowded mall. There’s the fear that an attack will occur, in public or without any way to stop it.
Learning to desensitize situations that can trigger an attack can be challenging, but not impossible. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often recognized as being the most effective treatment for panic disorder. With CBT, you learn to face your fears and triggers.
Since physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating and nausea often accompany a panic attack, people occasionally associate those symptoms with a new attack, even if one isn’t occurring. The fear that certain physical sensations are a new attack coming on can lead to a new attack.
Therapy can often help you learn to separate healthy physical sensations from the symptoms of a panic attack. Therapy can also help you learn techniques, such as deep breathing, that can calm your body and give you peace instead of triggering an attack.
Sometimes the stress of life, especially stress connected to personal loss, can lead to a panic attack. If you are genetically predisposed to panic disorder, certain life stressors can increase your risk for an attack.
You can’t avoid occasional loss or stress in life. But you can learn to cope with stress in a positive way. A combination of therapy, support groups, and relaxation techniques can help you live a full, peaceful life, where panic disorder is a distant memory.