Your heart is racing. You feel faint or dizzy and you can’t catch your breath. You suddenly feel very out of control.
There are all signs of a panic attack, which occurs as the result of an anxiety or panic disorder. The type of anxiety disorder you have, whether it’s generalized, social, agoraphobia or panic, can isolate the places or triggers that will cause you to have a panic attack. For example, a person with social anxiety is more likely to have a panic attack in a social situation where their anxiety is heightened, or triggered.
There is no one cause for panic attacks, but there are general symptoms of panic attacks to be aware of and look out for, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Cold sweats or chills
- Feelings of extreme terror or death without cause
- Feeling of loss of control
- Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing.
Researchers have not been able to find a root cause for panic attacks, in part because every person experiences them differently. Not everyone who has a panic or anxiety disorder will experience a panic attack, whereas someone who doesn’t realize they have an anxiety disorder might experience one. It’s hard to tell, so it’s wise to know what your triggers are so that you can manage them appropriately.
Identifying your triggers can be tricky since anxiety can manifest in different ways in a single person—sometimes you might feel restless, while other times you might feel nauseous. If you’ve had a panic attack before, write down where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, how you were feeling, and any other factors that come into play in that specific scenario. You may not know exactly what set you off, but write something down anyways because it might make more sense after reflection.
If you’ve never had a panic attack but do experience anxiety, write down the types of situations and environments you find the most stressful. Write down as much as you can in relation to certain potentially triggering situations, environments or people, so that you can refer to your notes the next time you find yourself feeling stressed in one of these situations.
If you start to feel stressed and don’t know what to do, calm yourself down by breathing deeply and mindfully and removing yourself as best you can from the situation.
If you are unsure if you have an anxiety disorder or have had a panic attack and are concerned, meet with your family doctor or a counsellor. If you are suffering from debilitating and recurring panic attacks, you should also seek help from a doctor or medical professional.
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