An Attack of Panic

A panic attack affects one out of 75 people, and can be quite disconcerting.  My panic attacks occur roughly once a month and last for about 1/2 hour.  When the acute symptoms first appear my first reaction is to resist giving in to it.  I get the “shakes.” For a long time, I didn’t know what caused them or more importantly what could stop it.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of an overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being ‘stressed out’ that most people experience. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • racing heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing, feeling as though you ‘can’t get enough air’
  • a terror, that is almost paralyzing, a seeming irrational fear
  • dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • trembling, sweating, shaking
  • choking, chest pains
  • hot flashes, or sudden chills
  • tingling in fingers or toes (‘pins and needles’)
  • fear that you’re going to go crazy, or are about to die

You probably recognize this as the classic ‘flight or fight’ response that human beings experience when we are in a situation of danger. But during a panic attack, these symptoms seem to rise from out of nowhere. They occur in seemingly harmless situations–they can even happen while you are asleep.

In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is marked by the following conditions:

  1. it occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
  2. the level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it’s completely unrelated.
  3. it passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the ‘fight or flight’ response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

A panic attack is not dangerous, but it can be terrifying.

Largely because it feels ‘crazy’ and ‘out of control.’ Panic disorder is frightening because of the symptoms associated with it, and also because it often leads to other complications such as phobias, depression, substance abuse, medical complications, even suicide. Its effects can range from mild social impairment or just pretty a total inability to face the outside world.

Is it a heart attack or a panic attack? 

Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that people think they’re having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the ER in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem.

While it’s important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing, it’s often panic that is overlooked as a potential cause – not the other way around.

If there is any doubt at all, call 911 immediately. 

“But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

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Further reading and help on panic attacks check out these sites:

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