How To Survive A Panic Attack
“I’m losing control…..”
“I feel like I’m going crazy…..”
“I must be having a heart attack…..”
“I’m choking and I can’t catch my breath…..”
“It came upon me by surprise. I heard my heart pounding so loudly that I thought it burst out of my chest like in that movie ALIENS…”
“I began shaking like a junkie in withdrawal…”
If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone.
The statements above are the some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack.
Panic and anxiety attacks affect over 4,000,000 people in the U.S. alone (That’s 5% of the total adult population!).
Many people who experience their first panic attack find themselves at hospital emergency rooms……or at doctors’ offices — prepared to hear the worst.
And unfortunately, hearing that they are “fine,” can actually makes things worse…
When they don’t hear that they’ve suffered a life-threatening situation (such as a heart attack), this news may actually cause an increase in their anxiety and making them prone to more panic attacks.
Panic attacks and anxiety disorders have an abundance of symptoms that vary from person to person and that makes it so much harder for your doctor to pinpoint.
Because the symptoms of panic are very real, the anxiety is so traumatizing, and the whole experience is new and strange, a panic attack is one of the worst experiences a person can have.
On top of the attack, there is always the nagging fear, “When will this happen to me again?”
So what is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are periods of intense fear or apprehension that are of sudden onset and of variable duration from minutes to hours. Panic attacks usually begin abruptly, may reach a peak within 10 minutes, but may continue for much longer if the sufferer had the attack triggered by a situation from which they are not able to escape.
In panic attacks that continue unabated, and are triggered by a situation from which the sufferer desires to escape, some sufferers may make frantic efforts to escape, which may be violent if others attempt to contain the sufferer. Some panic attacks can subside on their own over the next several hours.
What causes a panic attack?
Panic is not necessarily brought on by any one recognizable circumstance, and can stem from a single event or a culmination of multiple triggers . That is why panic attacks are so hard to pinpoint and often times the attacks just come “out of the blue.”
In essence, a panic attack can occur to anyone at any time, though some are more prone to it than others…
- Long-term, predisposing causes — heredity. Panic disorder has been found to run in families, and this may mean that inheritance plays a strong role in determining who will get it. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder develop it. The onset of panic disorder usually occurs in early adulthood, although it may appear at any age. It occurs more frequently in women and often in people with above average intelligence. Various twin studies where one identical twin has an anxiety disorder have reported an incidence ranging from 31 to 88 percent of the other twin also having an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Environmental factors such as an overly cautious view of the world expressed by parents and cumulative stress over time have been found to be correlated with panic attacks.
- Biological causes — obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, Wilson’s disease, mitral valve prolapse, pheochromocytoma, and inner ear disturbances (labyrinthitis). Parasitic infection can cause psychiatric symptoms.
- Phobias — People will often experience panic attacks as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation.
- Short-term triggering causes — Significant personal loss, including an emotional attachment to a romantic partner, life transitions, severe emotional distress, significant life change and, as seen below, stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, can act as triggers.
- Maintaining causes — Avoidance of panic provoking situations or environments, anxious/negative self-talk (“what-if” thinking), mistaken beliefs (“these symptoms are harmful and/or dangerous”), withheld feelings, lack of assertiveness.
- Lack of assertiveness — A growing body of evidence supports the idea that those who suffer from panic attacks engage in a passive style of communication or interactions with others. This communication style, while polite and respectful, is also characteristically un-assertive. This un-assertive way of communicating seems to contribute to panic attacks while being frequently present in those that are afflicted with panic attacks.
- Medications — Sometimes, panic attacks may be a listed side effect of medications such as methylphenidate or even fluoroquinolone-type antibiotics. These may be a temporary side effect, only occurring when a patient first starts a medication, or could continue occurring even after the patient is accustomed to the drug, which likely would warrant a medication change in either dosage or type of drug. Nearly the entire SSRI class of antidepressants can cause increased anxiety in the beginning of use. It is not uncommon for inexperienced users to have panic attacks while weaning on or off the medication, especially ones prone to anxiety.
- Alcohol, medication or drug withdrawal — Various substances both prescribed and unprescribed can cause panic attacks to develop as part of their withdrawal syndrome or rebound effect. Alcohol withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal are the most well known to cause these effects as a rebound withdrawal symptom of their tranquillizing properties.
- Hyperventilation syndrome — Breathing from the chest may cause overbreathing, exhaling excessive carbon dioxide in relation to the amount of oxygen in one’s bloodstream. Hyperventilation syndrome can cause respiratory alkalosis and hypocapnia. This syndrome often involves prominent mouth breathing as well. This causes a cluster of symptoms including rapid heart beat, dizziness, and lightheadedness which can trigger panic attacks.
- Situationally bound panic attacks — Associating certain situations with panic attacks, due to experiencing one in that particular situation, can create a cognitive or behavioral predisposition to having panic attacks in certain situations (situationally bound panic attacks). It is a form of classical conditioning. Examples of this include college, work, or deployment. See PTSD
- Pharmacological triggers — Certain chemical substances, mainly stimulants but also certain depressants, can either contribute pharmacologically to a constellation of provocations, and thus trigger a panic attack or even a panic disorder, or directly induce one.This includes caffeine, amphetamine, alcohol and many more. Some sufferers of panic attacks also report phobias of specific drugs or chemicals, that thus have a merely psychosomatic effect, thereby functioning as drug triggers by nonpharmacological means.
The above is a just a short list of some of the most common causes of a panic attack, but by no means is it all inclusive…
In a survival situation anyone prone to a panic attack will be saturated with many of these conditions. That same survival situation can cause even most stoic and level headed person to lose it. If you are in a group of people (especially if you are trying to remain unnoticed) having some one suffer from a panic attack can cause a devastating impact on your entire group.
Regardless of if you are surviving alone or in a group, you should always know the symptoms and how to deal with them.
Below are some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack:
- a racing pulse
- dizziness and lightheadedness
- feeling that “I can’t catch my breath”
- chest pains or a “heaviness” in the chest
- hot flashes or chills
- tingling in the extremities (hands, feet, legs, arms)
- jumpiness, trembling, twitching muscles
- sweaty palms, flushed face
- fear of losing control
- having a heart attack or stroke
- fear of dying
- fear of going crazy
Knowing the symptoms is only the first step to getting ahead of panic. You need to understand how to deal with it when it hits.
Now, there are many different ways to treat anxiety through the standard medical route including prescription medications. But as I am not a doctor I can’t speak to these. (not to mention the fact that I have seen the commercials in which the listing off of potential side effects is far longer than the listing of the benefits of the medication..) And in all reality, in any survival situation, access to and dependence on these medications can lead to a whole new can of worms.
But I did find this .PDF from AnxietyBC.com that does a pretty good job at helping to put things into perspective.
(For more information about AnxietyBC, click here)
A Survival Situation, emergency, crisis,or whatever you want to call it, will instantly through your body into a “flight, fight, or freeze” mode. This reaction is the reason that our ancestors survived and it still helps people survive terrible situations every day. But there is a limit to the effectiveness of panic and anything over that threshold will put you into even more danger.
I don’t care if you are a man, woman, or child; a panic attack is a very real and very terrible experience. Telling someone to “man up” or “tough it out” is not the answer.
I have given you the causes, symptoms, and a great resource that highlights how you can approach this situation.
Do you have anything to add?
What do you do to avoid or counter a panic attack?
Want more tips? Check out these great articles on our site:
8 Herbal Teas and Their Medical Benefits
13 Home Remedies That Actually Work
10 Powerful Medicinal Plants From Around the World
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October 4, 2013 at 9:37 AM
Panic happen in emergency situations when one needs to react to an issue, but doesn’t know how or can’t decide how. The answer in both cases is forethought. If you have a plan or at least the germ of one, you will not panic.
October 4, 2013 at 10:38 AM
When I have panic attacks I usually feel light headed my heart is beating quickly and I get real hot and because it runs in my family I think that I am having a heart attack. What I have found that works for me is 1) recognizing that it is a panic attack and that I am not dying 2) I get something cold to drink 3) I take medicine if I have it with me & 4) I talk to myself reminding me that it is a panic attack, I am not dying and that it will go away. I take medicine which controls me having attacks. Most of the time it works and very rarely will I have a break through attack. The above things work for me and the last time I had an attack was in the dentist chair. I just ask for water take my pill and let them know that I am having an attack and that I will be fine and would they please wait 10 minutes for the medicine to work before working on me. I find that people in general are very understanding if they know what is going on.
October 4, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Panic attacks are truly horrific, Ken this is very different from panicking, they run in my family, my mother and both of my daughters have them. I personally have had them for the past 32 years, it’s amazing the amount of ignorance in the medical field, early on I made several hospital visits where i got the you’er fine. Small doses of Xanax work great for me.
October 6, 2013 at 2:44 AM
First of all, thank you Survival Life for running this, and thank you, Above Average Joe. I have been an anxiety/panic attack sufferer for decades. Whether it’s heredity or post trauma related I can’t be sure. Maybe a combination of both. I can tell you it is very real, very serious, and can be debilitating. When it was very bad (after experiencing yet another major trauma in my life) I had been put on perscription meds for a period of time until I could get it back under control. I don’t like being on meds of any kind so I went off of them. The breathing technique DOES work. Now that I know what the early signs are, and my particular triggers. I use the breathing technique to head off the attack, or at least make it less severe.
October 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM
good!! I’m glad there are others out here that agree. pills are not the answer and simply a mask! breathing really does work 🙂
October 6, 2013 at 2:06 PM
I used to get panic attacks all the time. I would get shaky, dizzy, sweaty, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting and my legs, arms and hands would get so tingly that I would become temporarily paralyzed, which was the scariest part. but, as of recently, I was diagnosed with a serious disease with no cure. as scared as I was, I knew I had to get my panic attacks under control or the stress could cause real complications with my condition. I’ve started concentrating on specific parts and functions in my body, for example, breathing. I breathe deeply and concentrate on simply that until I start to calm down. or I flex specific muscles in my body and hold while slowly switching to other muscles and concentrating on the process. sometimes I’ll even press on different pressure points and concentrate on what parts of my body they affect. daydreaming helps too (if you can control your thought patterns). personally I think anyone suffering from panic disorders/anxiety attacks needs to lesrn how to control them naturally and it can be done no matter what your doctor may tell you. IT CAN BE DONE! use your inner strength to overcome the battles. I personally feel that pills are NOT the answer and it’s the easy out to containing these spells. if we were put into a situation where we needed to be level-headed, these pill poppers wouldn’t last long because the supply would be no more. better have a back up plan. if your mind is strong enough to make you sick, it’s also strong enough to overcome sickness. think about it people!!
October 8, 2013 at 8:32 AM
I have suffered from anxiety/panic attacks since I was about 8 or 9 years old. It hasn’t been until recently that I have discovered that my adrenal glands are depleted and caffeine is the main trigger for me. I won’t drink anything with caffeine in it. I will sneak a drink or two of choc milk that the kids get sometimes. I’m okay/safe to sneak in a chocolate candy bar USUALLY. I’m skiddish of decaf coffee since I have had a panic attack after drinking it. I have also noticed that if I’m up & going too much (staying up late, real busy on not enough sleep) I will end up with a panic attack. Also note, I’m not sure if everyone has same issues but my panic attacks usually always hit at bedtime. Hope my experience can help someone else. Love Jesus Christ, read your Bible and remember to say your prayers. <3
November 8, 2013 at 6:11 PM
This was a great summary of the causes and symptoms panic attacks. The late Dr. Claire Weekes, a world renowned anxiety expert, concluded many anxiety disorders/panic attacks originate from a form of exhaustion. The exhaustion can be physical, mental, or emotional. When any one of these aspects is depleted, the person becomes very sensitive to their surroundings and susceptible to greater levels of anxiety. From that place of exhaustion the sensitized person becomes susceptible to any internal shock (scary body sensation) or external shock like something as simple as a door slamming. This can starts a cycle of fear and confusion over the sensitized state that gradually turns into an anxiety disorder or full blown panic attacks. Anything you can do to increase your level of self care is a great foundation of helping to reduce your sensitivity to events and people in your world. With this as a start the next step is to break the fear/panic cycle that is driving the reoccurrence of your anxiety and panic.
November 20, 2013 at 11:06 AM
A family member recently suggested taking Magnesium supplements for panic attacks. I am a bit skeptical about herbal remedies. Has anyone had any experiences, good or bad, taking magnesium?
January 27, 2014 at 5:37 AM
There is a magnesium powder called natural calm that really
Helps. Also a book cled “The Mood cure” by Julia Ross is nothing short of Incredible-I love that book and reading it you get tons of knowledge on diet and supplements that can help with anxiety, depression, addiction, burn iut, insomnia, etc. and its like a loving hand is there guiding you with how she relates to the suffering and victories of her clients in counseling. I’ve had anxiety disorder for a while and know youre hurting- I pray for you and that Jesus Christ would bless you and touch your heart on the deepest level. God bless you.
January 28, 2014 at 5:31 PM
Just remember, you don’t have to have a history of panic or anxiety disorder in order to have a panic attack.
Also, like in my case, you don’t always register a panic attack as a sudden ‘im about to die’ feeling, though most people do.
These are called ‘attacks’ for a reason; though ‘ambush’ might be a better way to describe it. No matter how often, how small or big, or what you feel during one, it can be dangerous. Especially if you have any conditions that cause, or can be worsened, by a panic attack.
If you experience a panic attack (whether the 5th, 100th, or your first one), once you calm down, try to figure out the following: 1.what triggered it. 2. Can you avoid that trigger again? and 3. What were you feeling during the panic attack. I have found looking at all these things make it easier to manage. Especially if you are in a group, you can explain what happened and it makes it easier for others to help keep an eye out for you.
January 28, 2014 at 5:34 PM
Potassium is a great way to help calm the nerves. A band teacher of mine once made us eat banana’s before a concert so we wouldn’t be so nervous. It’s a good trick in a bind, if you have something rich in potassium.
April 6, 2014 at 2:05 PM