Panic attacks are a response to fear, danger or stress; where your body goes into fight or flight mode. They often seem to come out of nowhere and can involve very intense physical and psychological symptoms.
Managing repeated panic attacks on your own can be very overwhelming, so you might wish to talk to your family about what you experience so you can feel supported and well-looked after. This might just be in terms of increasing their understanding of panic attacks, or it might be in terms of the practical things they can do to help you get through it and manage your panic or anxiety disorders better.
Improving your family’s panic attack awareness will help you to get the support you need when you’re in the midst of a panic attack, as well as help them to understand what’s happening when you have one. In this blog, we’ll walk through some of the things that you might want to talk to your family about to help them get a better awareness of your panic attacks.
What is a panic attack?
The best place to start when it comes to helping your family to understand your panic attacks is to help them understand what it feels like when you have them. Panic attacks have a number of intense physical symptoms that can be very frightening, such as:
- Struggling to breathe
- Chest pains
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- A pounding or racing heartbeat
- Shivering or shaking.
You might also feel like you’re going to faint, that you’re having a heart attack, or even that you’re going to die. This can be scary, but try to remember that panic attack symptoms will pass. Usually, a panic attack will last between 5 and 20 minutes, with the peak happening at around 10 minutes.
Why do people have panic attacks?
It’s likely that the second question your family will have about your panic attacks is “why do you have them?”. The most important thing for them to know is that absolutely anyone can have them. Everyone has feelings of anxiety and panic during their life, and there is always a chance that these feelings could become a panic attack or that you could develop panic disorder. Some people may experience a panic attack and then never experience one again. However, some people find that they have panic attacks and feelings of anxiety on a regular basis. In this case, it’s likely that they’re struggling with a severe panic disorder or an anxiety disorder.
Panic attacks can have different triggers for different people, and can be expected or unexpected. Expected panic attacks occur when a person is exposed to something they’re afraid of or when there is a clear trigger. For example, someone who is afraid of flying might have a panic attack when boarding a flight. Someone who struggles with agoraphobia might have a panic attack in anticipation of going outside. They also might be caused by fearful thoughts or having feelings of intense dread. Unexpected panic attacks, on the other hand, don’t appear to have any specific cause and just seem to come out of nowhere.
If you regularly suffer from panic attacks, you might notice a common thread between them. You might notice that certain places or situations tend to trigger panic attacks, for instance. Understanding what causes your panic attacks will help your family to identify when you might be about to have one, and so can provide you with the support and comfort you need.
How can your family help?
Once your family has more of an awareness of what panic attacks are and how they happen, they might ask how they can help. Now, this is entirely up to you: if you don’t feel comfortable talking about some of the ways they can support you to either reduce the chance of you having a panic attack or look after you while you’re having one, you don’t have to. However, there are some things that they might be able to help with that makes a panic attack feel a little less scary.
How to help during a panic attack
There are a number of things that can help to ground you while you’re in the midst of a panic attack. You’ll likely know some of the techniques that work best, so you could write a list and give it to a trusted family member. They might be able to help you remember some of these coping strategies in the moment and even do them with you. Some examples might be to:
- Bring your awareness to your senses by chewing on mint-flavoured gum or touching something soft and fluffy
- Try breathing exercises to focus your attention
- Explore grounding techniques to help you feel more in control.
How to help after a panic attack
After a panic attack, it’s important to look after yourself and get some rest. Your family can help facilitate this: getting you the things you need and checking in on you while you recover. Whether it’s as simple as getting you a glass of water, or sitting with you until you feel better, your loved one can make sure that you’re taking the time to recharge.
Knowing when to seek professional help
Your family can be a great support during and immediately after panic attacks, but if you’re struggling with them consistently or routinely experience panic disorder symptoms, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor or a licensed therapist about your experiences with anxiety. They’ll be able to offer greater support in terms of medication or treatment plans to help you understand more about why you’re having panic attacks and, hopefully, get control of them.
Managing panic attacks with The Awareness Centre
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, The Awareness Centre can help. Through talking therapies, we can help you understand more about why you’re having panic attacks, and help you to develop coping strategies that work for you. Get in touch with us today to discuss how we work and find an appointment that works for you.