Panic attacks: 11 questions to better understand your situation
Panic attacks are admittedly intense, scary and remembered long after they are over. I prefer the term ‘panic episodes’ over ‘panic attacks’ as the word ‘attack’ conjures up images and emotions that are far from being calming. A panic episode has:
a) physical manifestations, such as palpitations- pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, choking sensation, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling unsteady, dizzy or lightheaded, chills or heat sensations, numbness or tingling sensations, depersonalization and derealization
b) mental manifestations (‘I am dying’ or “I am going crazy) and
c) behavioural manifestations (mainly avoidance which often leads to agoraphobia).
There are various factors involved in the build-up of a panic episode. Here are 11 questions that you can ask yourself in order to clarify what might be contributing to your episodes and be more effective in offering yourself the help you actually need.
1. Have you looked into medical conditions whose symptoms resemble those of a panic attack, such as thyroid issues, hypoglycaemia, mitral valve prolapse and cardiac arrhythmias?
2. Have you checked your medications for possible side effects?
3. Have you been using drugs or are experiencing withdrawal symptoms?
4. Do you tend to put a lid on your feelings and your desires at bay?
5 Have you been repressing anger for a long period of time?
6. Have you been dealing a fast-paced schedule and intense pressures over a long period of time?
7. Have there been any dramatic changes in your life?
8. Do you feel trapped in your current personal or professional situation?
9. Do you feel that you are growing older and are not living your life in a way that represents who you are? Do you feel that your life and potential have been wasted?
10. Do you experience panic episodes in specific situation only? In that case, we are possibly dealing a phobia?
11. Have you been through a traumatic experience that you haven’t managed to deal with effectively? In which case, we need to look into the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder?
Managing your panic in a well-planned and focused manner will depend on identifying and understanding what’s contributing to it. In addition, learning self-control techniques, such as specific breathing exercises, hypnosis and mental training strategies, will significantly help manage the physical manifestations of panic. As a result, fear of panic will be reduced (since you’re no longer at war without weaponry) which is extremely important. Finally, working in a brief strategic manner, the first step is to look at what you are currently doing to help yourselves and assess whether these well-intentioned solutions are making matters worse.
I have seen the personal and work toll that panic and excess anxiety in general has had on many highly talented people; from parents to athletes, to executives and CEOs. I have also seen the recovery and successful comeback stories which are a testament to the fact that it can be managed effectively. It isn’t a lifetime sentence nor do you need a lifetime to free yourself from its shackles and (re)release your potential.