Sunday, July 18, 2010

Are you suffering from panic attacks

If I can help one person out there struggling with panic attacks, then my personal story about anxiety and panic disorder is well worth it. I have a Master's degree in counseling and psychological services, but having struggled with this affliction throughout my life is what gives me "expertise and credibility" on the subject.

What is a panic attack: The DSM-IV descibes a panic attack as "a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, which comes on suddenly and peaks within ten minutes or so." According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms of panic disorder "last as long as thirty minutes or as little as fifteen seconds." "They can form a cyclical series of episodes that last for extended periods. Often, those afflicted will experience significant anticipatory anxiety and limited symptom attacks between situations where attacks have previously occurred."

intense fear or apprehension
fear of dying
feeling that one is "going crazy" or feeling out of control
shortness of breath, choking feeling or smothering sensation
muscle pain or tension
hot flashes/cold flashes
chest pain or heart palpitations
dizziness or feeling light-headed
de-realization(feeling out of your body)
burning sensation/numbing sensation
hypervigilence (being overly aware of environmental or bodily sensations)
strong urge to "escape or flee"

One of my worst bouts of anxiety, panic disorder and panic attacks, was when I was about twenty-eight years old. Mind you, I suffered from them at a younger age, but it wasn't until my twenties that it became very severe.

One of my earlier recollections of anxiety was when I was about nine years old. I was laying in bed when the feeling came over me. I wanted to flee and get as far away from my body as possible. I wasn't sure why I had this feeling of dread and fear when I was just relaxing in the comfort of my own childhood bedroom. Then there was the time I was about ten years old. I was laying on the livingroom couch watching t.v., and without warning, I felt like I was going to die. I walked into the kitchen where my father was standing. I was sobbing and telling him about the wierd symptoms I was experiencing. He wanted so much to help his little girl, but had no idea what it was or what to do.

The anxiety and panic continued throughout my childhood and peaked in young adulthood. Eventually I was suffering with full-blown panic attacks. I was working at a group home for adults with special needs when the panic attacks were the worst. Here I was, twenty-something and responsible for 8-10 adults and feeling like I was falling apart. One of my scariest incidents was when I was driving the company van with all ten residents. I thought, "OH Man, here we go again," as the feelings of panic came over me suddenly. I felt like I was suffocating, dying, going crazy. I considered pulling the van over but I was on an interstate, where there was no getting off. The fact that I knew I couldn't get off the highway, made the anxiety and panic even worse. I eventually got everyone home safe, but I will never forget it. I felt like I had run a marathon as my legs were sore and shaky following the panic attack.

There were also many incidents in college where my boyfriend would have to talk me down. He was patient and loving and learned that I regularly had these bouts of anxiety. He and my sister became very important to me when I was having a bad panic attack.

Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to anxiety and panic. I have come a long way since the days of constant panic. There is hope for living a good life, in spite of panic and anxiety.

Here are some ideas and tips that have helped me:
Take your shoes off when having feelings of panic or anxiety and rub them into the floor or ground. This skill may sound odd, but really helps get you back in your body.

Self-Care-Get enough sleep, eat nutritional foods, take vitamins or supplements, pamper yourself by taking a bath or a nice walk(anything just for you and no-one else), exercise or move your body and avoid alcohol as this can exacerbate the anxiety

Talk to a therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety or panic disorder. You can work together to find the best treatment for you. It may include medication, talk therapy, bio-feedback, or other ways that are a fit for you.

See your Primary Care Physician to discuss your anxiety and panic. They may want to rule out any physical problems. (Make sure to keep them in the loop if you are seeing a therapist or counselor).

Get support from friends and family you trust. Just talking about your anxiety can often alleviate the scary feelings that accompany it.

Read articles on the internet-You will realize how common anxiety and panic disorder really is in our society. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Try not to give too much power to the anxiety. I know what your thinking, "Easier said than done" but take it from someone who has learned from experience. I just don't give anxiety the power I use to in the earlier days. Try to focus your attention on something that gets your mind off your mind. Do things that you love or have a passion for. ( I love to garden, walk, hub, read, watch movies and listen to music, to name a few)

Love yourself-You are not bad or damaged because you suffer with panic attacks. Oh, and you or I are not crazy!

Panic attacks can decrease in power as you learn more skills to cope with them. I have gone through several months of remission, many times in my life. Even when it does come back for a visit, I am more prepared with ammunition which I listed above

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