Panic Attacks, Symptoms, and Causes | 5 Self-help Methods
A panic attack is a sudden release into the bloodstream of special substances – catecholamines produced by the adrenal glands. The best known of the catecholamines is adrenaline, the so-called “fear hormone”. Therefore, panic attacks are always accompanied by fear and are always associated with stress and anxiety.
If against the background of complete well-being a healthy person is given adrenaline, he will experience all the symptoms of a panic attack: fear, terror, heart jumping out of the chest, increased sweating, tremor, shortness of breath, cold extremities, head feels cotton, nausea, intestinal discomfort and other feelings accompanying anxiety and fright.
In other words, everything that happens to us during a panic attack is a normal, natural, physiological, healthy body response to fear. What is abnormal and pathological is that this reaction occurs without a reason or for a very minor reason in a calm environment or even in sleep. Naturally, the first thought of a person experiencing a panic attack for the first time would be the thought of a serious illness.
The primary factors leading to panic attacks are always constitutional, i.e. related to the physiological, innate basis of the person. They are genetically determined and often inherited. These include:
- Anxiety, insecurity, a tendency to feel agitated, anxious on minor occasions.
- Emotional sensitivity, impressionability, vulnerability.
- Insensibility, mistrustfulness, sentimentality, and excessive sensual openness.
- Lability, i.e. instability, changeability, inconstancy of the emotional background.
- Autonomic reactivity, i.e., high responsiveness of the body to experiences, which manifests itself by a set of autonomic symptoms – palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, trembling, sensations of heat, cold, numbness, pain, etc
But the factor provoking a panic attack can be any emotional stress. Any problematic situation in life, superimposed on a genetic predisposition, can cause a panic attack. Such factors include:
- Divorce, separation from a loved one.
- Anxiety about children.
- Trouble at work.
- Family conflicts.
- Debts, etc.
However, factors differ for many people. For some, even losing at casino games can cause stress, for others, losing a family member or a close friend won’t make much difference in the mood.
What’s more, provoking factors include physiological reasons that cause malfunctions in the normal functioning of the body:
- Food or any other poisoning.
- Sun/heat stroke.
- High amounts of caffeine/alcohol/energy/drugs.
- Intense physical or mental stress.
- Sleep-wake rhythm disorder, severe fatigue.
Most often, the first panic attack occurs in an anxious person when emotional and physical factors coincide in time: for example, worrying about the health of a loved one is accompanied by overload at work; problems in the family arise against the background of taking a hormonal drug.
Signs of Panic Attacks
An attack can last from 1-2 minutes to 2 hours, but most often it takes approximately from 10 to 20 minutes, but a person having it feels like hours have passed. Four or more of the following are symptoms of a panic attack:
- Heart palpitations.
- Rapid pulse.
- Feeling of inner trembling.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Nausea or abdominal discomfort.
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or preconscious.
- Feeling of derealization, depersonalization.
- Fear of going insane or committing an uncontrollable act.
- Fear of death.
- Feeling of numbness or tingling in the extremities.
- Confusion (decreased randomness of thought).
- Abdominal pain.
- Rapid urination.
- Feeling of a coma in the throat.
- Gait disturbance.
- Impaired vision or hearing.
- Cramps in the arms or legs.
- Impaired motor function.
- Sudden rise in blood pressure.
You can see that all of the above symptoms are a normal reaction of the body to stress, with one exception – a panic attack occurs without a stressful situation or as an inadequate reaction to minimal stress or a situation remotely resembling a stressful situation.
A panic attack with all of the above symptoms can only be said to occur when fear, anxiety, panic, or an inadequate amount of fear is unreasonable and there is no real meaningful threat to safety, life, or health. If panic, fear, or anxiety are caused by an upcoming significant event: an interview with an employer, an exam, a speech in public, etc., we are talking about a natural reaction of the nervous system.