When I was 15-years-old I started having spontaneous crying spells in which my heart raced and I hyperventilated for what felt like hours. For the longest time, I didn’t know what was “wrong” with me or how I should help myself. I waited months and months before I decided to tell someone because I finally got to a point where I was so confused and knew that not saying anything would only make whatever was going on worse. I was afraid of how my Asian family would react but I was even more afraid that they would tell me I was crazy and blow it off as if it was nothing.
Luckily I was sent to a therapist who was both well versed in mental health among youth and within the Asian culture. A month later I was diagnosed with panic disorder. Even after being told what these episodes were, I still didn’t know what that meant for me or how I was supposed to respond. At that moment, I wasn’t frustrated by the fact that there was something “wrong”; I was actually frustrated because no one had ever told me what a panic attack was, or how many people had the disorder, or what were the short and long term solutions for the condition. I was fortunate to be in very good hands with a therapist who was culturally competent and willing to teach me all that I did not know; but, I know that that experience is not the same for everyone, so I want to take the time to educate everyone about panic attacks and panic disorder, and how you can help those in need.
WHAT IS A PANIC ATTACK?
A panic attack is an unexpected intense wave of fear and anxiety characterized by its debilitating intensity. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, sometimes triggered by stressful events, and sometimes without any known catalyst.
Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. Symptoms may include fast heartbeat, difficulties breathing, chest or stomach pain, weakness or dizziness, migraines or headaches, sweating, tingly or numb hands. The typical length of a panic attack is about ten minutes, but can last as long as an hour.
WHAT IS PANIC DISORDER?
While many will experience one or two panic attacks without further complications, some go on to develop panic disorder. The disorder is characterized by repeated attacks that lead to changes in behavior or persistent anxiety over having further attacks. If you experience
Frequent and unexpected panic attacks that are not caused by a specific situation
Consistent fear of having another panic attack
Changes in behavior due to panic attacks (such as avoiding places where you have previously had panic attacks)
then you may be suffering from panic disorder and should talk to your therapist/counselor about those changes. Having panic disorder can take an emotional toll on you. The memory of the fear, anxiety, stress, and physical symptoms that you felt in a previous attack can disrupt everyday life and negatively affect your self-esteem and motivation. If untreated you could experience anticipatory anxiety or phobic avoidance.
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Although single panic attacks are relatively common, It is estimated that panic disorder affects 2 to 3 percent of adult Americans – 6 million Americans – in any given year. Approximately 5 percent of the population will experience panic disorder at some point in their lives. The disorder is two times more common in women than men.
HOW CAN I LESSEN PANIC ATTACKS AND TREAT PANIC DISORDER?
Long term treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy; however, there are small steps you can take to ease the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks:
Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
Regularly meditate and practice breathing techniques
Develop a list of ways to calm yourself down after a panic attack. These will be different for everyone but some suggestions may be: taking a shower, walk around outside, listen to classical music
PANIC ATTACK: What to Do?
Stay calm: being understanding and non-judgemental can ease the person’s anxiety and have the panic subside quicker
Guide them through their breathing
Do something physical together: encouraging them to walk around or jump can bring them out of their panic and burn off some of their stress
Encourage them to seek help: AYANA provides unlimited texting so you can contact your therapist at any time and receive immediate help. Our app is launching in this summer, so email us firstname.lastname@example.org to get on our pre-launch list.