Today’s blog is focused on panic attacks and how they have affected my life. From as far back as I can remember I have always felt different from others and I believe we can all learn from each other. To start off I thought it would be useful to define what panic attacks are, what the signs and symptoms are and what treatments are available.

What are Panic Attacks?
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying. Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. Although anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, what differentiates a panic attack from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Panic attacks typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside. Due to the intensity of the symptoms and their tendency to mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening issue.

Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. You may have occasional panic attacks, or they may occur frequently. One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you’ll have another one. You may fear having panic attacks so much that you avoid certain situations where they may occur.

Panic attacks typically include some of these signs or symptoms:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment

According to the Anxiety and Depression of America, “Some people experience what is referred to as limited-symptom panic attacks, which are similar to full-blown panic attacks but consist of fewer than four symptoms.

Panic attacks can occur unexpectedly during a calm state or in an anxious state. Although panic attacks are a defining characteristic of panic disorder, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience panic attacks in the context of other psychological disorders. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder might have a panic attack before giving a talk at a conference and someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder might have a panic attack when prevented from engaging in a ritual or compulsion.

Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. As a result, people who experience repeated panic attacks often become very worried about having another attack and may make changes to their lifestyle so as to avoid having panic attacks. For example, avoiding exercise so as to keep their heart rate low, or avoiding certain places.

In the past it might have taken months or years and lots of frustration before getting a proper diagnosis. Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones about what they are experiencing for fear of being seen as a hypochondriac. Instead they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could be helpful. Other people suffering from panic attacks don’t know they have a real and highly treatable disorder. It is our hope that through increased education, people will feel more empowered to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare professional and seek appropriate treatment.”

Panic disorder is usually treated with psychotherapy, medication or both. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you.

February 4, 2019
This afternoon I had a panic attack and it came out of nowhere. I laid down for a nap and woke up abruptly. I was sweating, my entire body was shaking, my arms and hands were trembling, my heart was racing, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was nauseous like I was going to vomit and I felt like I was going crazy. Where did this come from? I wasn’t having a bad dream or day. I screamed for my husband and he found me rocking back and forth in bed, crying uncontrollably.
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April 22, 2019
I don’t like to brag, but I’m really proud of myself. I survived two Passover dinners and Easter dinner without having a panic attack! I was anxiety ridden most of last week — would I look okay, would people judge me, would my social anxiety go wild around 30 people, would I have something to talk to people about, would I mess up reading the Haggadah in front of 30 people, would I be okay with three holiday dinners in a row, would I want to cancel, would I have a panic attack, etc. Did you notice that all of these started with “would I”? I need to somehow stop doubting myself so much. I need to figure out how to stop stressing out before I actually need to (if I need to). Does anyone have any suggestions on how to do that? I try and go into situations with no expectations but that doesn’t seem to help.
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To my new followers, welcome to Smiling Through Tears. This blog is a daily account of my struggle with mental health disorders. To all of my returning followers, thank you for supporting me and following my journey.

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