Panic attacks

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Panic attacks and panic disorderPanic attacks and panic disorder.

Panic is generally thought to represent a form of collective behavior in response to critical situations, manifesting as mass fear of some real or imagined threat. However, panic can also be considered as a manifestation of neurosis, taking the form of panic attacks. Panic is differentiated according to intensity (from low to severe), and is generally characterized by increased fear, decreased ability to critically assess situations, susceptibility to external influences, and the appearance of a wide variety of unpleasant somatic symptoms.

Panic disorder signs

These are some of the diagnostic signs of panic disorder:

  • Unexpected attacks of inexplicable anxiety or fear (panic attacks) that peak quickly and last for a couple of minutes.
  • The attacks are accompanied by somatic symptoms, such as: tachycardia, chest pains, sensations of choking, nausea, tremors, vertigo, feelings of detachment, fear of heart attack or death, as well as fear of losing control or going insane.
  • Fear of possible future attacks (‘fear of fear’) and tendency to avoid places where previous attacks occurred, also avoidance of physical exercises or other activities that provoke similar somatic sensations to those that took place during the attack

It can also be a manifestation of neurosis, taking the form of panic disorder. 

Panic attack help guide

If you feel that you are being overcome with panic, it is advisable to do the following:

  • Remain where you are and do not try to escape the situation until the attack subsides
  • Do not try to concentrate on the bodily sensations you are experiencing, but try to remain calm in order to reduce anxiety
  • Try to relax by slowing down your breathing – controlling the rate of breathing usually lessens the somatic symptoms
  • Keep in mind that this is just a panic attack, which is not life-threatening and that feeling of fear will subside soon. Keep track of time. While it may appear that a significant amount of time has passed, the panic attack in fact lasts only a couple of minutes.

If attacks happen frequently, you should seek professional help. However, in addition to personality characteristics and predispositions for panic disorder, there are objective circumstances that can elicit this condition – e.g., psychophysical discomfort, provoked by intrusions into one’s private space as in overcrowding in small spaces (e.g., in buses, trains, subways), polluted or stale air, psychological inability to process what happened in an appropriate way. When absence of information or insufficient information combine with inadequate preparedness on part of most people to act rationally in dangerous situations, this can lead to states of mass panic. 

If you find yourself in a situation that can cause mass panic, try to remain unaffected by the general mood, do not contribute to the panic by making rushed movements, which could at the same time limit your ability to assess the situation and make the right decision. 

You can use some simple techniques for quick relaxation:

  • Look up, take a deep breath, and then lower your eyes to the horizon, breathe out evenly, emptying your lungs fully and relaxing all your muscles. Even breathing contributes to stable behavior. Breathe in and out several times.
  • Look at something blue, or imagine a vivid blue background.
  • Try to picture a given situation “from outside of yourself”, assessing it from the perspective of an observer; think about what you would do, and whether you would get involved in the situation?
  • Smile, even if forced, and dispel fear with an unexpected thought or memory.

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