Wow! You guys would not believe that I had my first panic attack in a long time on Thursday while driving!
Fortunately my best friend was on the phone with me as I pulled over and even more important was that I was able to acknowledge that a panic attack is what I was having.
I used to get them constantly when I lived in New York City in the years between 2010 and 2012. It took a very long time and lots of trips to the emergency room to figure out that it was a result of many issues I had going on at the time. There was so much uncertainty in my life from career to health and finances.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, panic disorders affect approximately 6 million people, with women leading men in the category. It is highly critical that we all take notice of the situations and people that trigger us to experience stress. The ADAA correctly points out that anxiety is reaction to stress.
I am not sure if there was solely one thing that triggered my sudden panic attack while driving. I had a long day at work that included lack of staff, a shoplifting situation, working on my Awareness Event during lunch, and several days of lack of rest leading up to this past Thursday. I also did not have much appetite during lunch and did not finish my meal.
If you have had a panic attack before, you often feel it coming on. I noticed it as soon as I could no longer catch my breath and my chest felt tighter while talking to my friend on the phone. I kept feeling like I was going to pass out any minute and that I wanted to get out of my car but due to traffic on the interstate, I could not. I specifically remember saying "I think I'm having a panic attack".
So how do you recognize the signs of and what do you do if you have never had one or you suddenly find yourself around someone who is?
Some common signs include:
* Feeling lightheaded or weak
* Feeling shaky or sweaty
* Chest-pain or chest pressure
* Loud (you cannot hear anything else) or rapid heart-beat
*Fear of death or heart-attack
* The need or pressure to escape the environment
*Nausea, chills, or hot flashes
The feeling is often sudden and usually at a tie that would cause social awkwardness. Usually when people are in the middle of a panic attack, they do not want people to know or see them. They feel the need to get away or to hide. I remember one time at work, I hid in the bathroom and cried until it was over.
I was able to tell my friend what was happening because we had once been roommates when I used to have them severely. It definitely helped me to get through my panic attack when I was pulled over because talking did not allow my brain to go to the worst spectrum of thoughts.
Here is what you can do if or when it is your turn to have a panic attack or you need to support someone through it:
1) With the first or second panic attack, seek medical aid
In order for any heart or physical diseases to be ruled out, certain tests must be performed to ensure that what you are experiencing is really a panic attack. Tests should include things such as EKG, blood tests, stress tests, angiography, and others.
2) Acknowledge that you are having a panic attack and use positive self talk.
Once you are confident that you are generally healthy, when you start to feel the signs of panic attack again, you can verbally tell yourself "This is just a panic attack. I am not dying. I am healthy. This will pass soon."
This step is super important because you need to "get out of your own head" so to speak that something bad is about to happen and understand that the current situation is not permanent. You will be able to move on to step 3 successfully.
3) Start techniques to help the physical symptoms of the panic attack. Here I am going to share some of the ones that have been reliable for me to pass the quickly but you can also find more at Healthline.