When people have anxiety they may experience panic attacks as a heightened response to stress inducing situations. Panic attacks can also be onset by a number of psychological, pharmacological, and environmental factors including alcohol, drugs, bereavement and even a break up.
Panic attacks can be intense and can occur quickly with no trigger. However, they are unlikely to cause physical harm and can be treated with medication and psychotherapy. That being said, panic attacks can be caused by anxiety, fear, or a person having a panic disorder.
Panic disorders are classified as an anxiety disorder. This is due to both disorders experiencing panic attacks of similar symptomology such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and chest pain. However to be diagnosed with a panic disorder the feelings of having a panic attack must be regular and unexpected (DSM-5). The person must also experience an increased worry, concern, or change in behaviour about having further attacks for at least a month after the attack.
There are various causes of panic disorders, but research has found that women are twice as likely to develop the disorder compared to men. Also, symptoms tend to begin appearing in teens and young adults under the age of 25. Having a panic disorder also increases the risk of developing other mental health conditions such as agoraphobia, which will be discussed in the next 3LB blog post.
Panic disorders tend to be a long-term condition which can be challenging to treat but treatment aims to ease symptoms and reduce the number of panic attacks. It is important to seek advice from your GP and get a formal diagnosis if you experience symptoms of a panic disorder as they can provide medicine and psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Panic disorders are impossible to prevent, but at 3LB we still want to provide some ways to cope with panic attacks which may reduce symptoms.
Coping with panic attacks:
The most effective way of coping with a panic disorder is by taking control of the panic attacks, to calm your body and mind.
Learn slow-breathing techniques which can be used during an attack to reduce the feelings
Organise your thoughts and favour positivity (easier said than done, but try and envisage a cat sneezing or your grandparent smiling)
Remind yourself that you are in control. It may feel like you are not but facing feared situations can help you manage your experience
Practice muscle relaxation techniques to lower tension (from your toes to your knees, fingers, shoulders, and forehead, relax your muscles one by one)
Create coping cards to carry or a photo album on your phone which includes calming but realistic content
How to reduce symptoms:
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and illicit drugs
Confide in friends and family when life is seeming stressful
Improve wellbeing by getting enough sleep and exercise regularly
Try using essential oils such as eucalyptus and lavender, which can be added to a bath, oil diffuser or applied to your skin. Eucalyptus encourages a better flow of oxygen to your lungs and lavender fosters relaxation
Adopt calming activities such as yoga, pilates and meditation
The affects of the covid-19 pandemic on people with panic disorders & anxiety
The year 2020 marks the year that started a global pandemic in the first quarter, that caused families and their loved ones to face numerous difficulties in their everyday life.
During this unfortunate time, 1.69 million were left unemployed in the United Kingdom as companies were struggling to keep afloat in the declining economy and were reducing their overheads wherever possible (Office for National Statistics).
As a result, the unemployment rate has dramatically increased to 7.7% (BBC) and issues with peoples mental health has skyrocketed, with many people staying at home to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
Relationships are important at maintaining mental wellbeing. So when families live together but are not cohesive there is a potential increased risk of mental health problems. And so, it is important during this stressful pandemic that families work towards being more considerate towards members of their household and to perhaps re-evaluate their bond with their loved ones.
Research suggests that individuals are more like to have mental health problems if their family member also has mental health problems. This is especially true with anxiety and panic disorders. So when it comes to the affects of the pandemic on those individuals, the lack of friendly social interactions and increased health concerns can aggravate symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders.
That being said, the pandemic which has forced us to socially distance and not see people face-to-face for months, has forced us as a society to come up with other ways to see one another's face, hear each others laughs and attend a pub quiz. We have utilised various forms of technology, turning to video-communicating applications like Zoom, Facetime and Facebook Messenger, to contact our loved ones, our colleagues, and improve our mental health.
Below are suggestions on how to help people with anxiety and panic disorders cope through the pandemic and tips on what not to say.
Ways to help a loved one:
Try to keep a calm demeanour and be patient with your loved one as they may get into a defensive stance
Help them take slow deep breaths which will aid them to be more relaxed
Help them in getting some fresh air maybe somewhere outside
There are many meditation / guided meditation apps like Headspace and Calm that can be used in situations where the symptoms are mild
Things not to say:
Don’t say “it will get better” or “just calm down” as this gives the person the illusion that they might have some control over their symptoms. This notion that they have control will cause them more harm than good
Don’t say phrases like “just pull up your socks” or to “man up”, this would make them feel inferior
Written by Sammy & Rebecca (3LB Team).
Panic disorder. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/
Burns, E. (2018). Causes of Panic Attacks. Retrieved from https://www.priorygroup.com/mental-health/panic-attack-treatment/causes-of-panic-attacks#:~:text=Environmental%20causes%20of%20panic%20attacks%20may%20include%3A%201,a%20parent%2C%20and%20moving%20house%20More%20items...%20
Casarella, J. (2020). Panic and Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-attack-symptoms
Burke, D. (2018). Panic Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/panic-disorder#risks
Anxiety Canada. Self-Help Strategies for Panic Disorder [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.anxietycanada.com/sites/default/files/adult_hmpanic.pdf