Here’s Help for You to Face Your Fears And Banish Panic Attacks
A recent National Geographic survey found that although we don't live in a country populated by deadly creepy-crawlies, 20% of us fear spiders, 19.7% fear snakes, and many fear other creatures like crocodiles unlikely to crawl across our paths.
Why fear such creatures when they're not a threat? Evolutionary psychology suggests these fears evolved to protect our ancient ancestors and are buried deep in our psyche. Once rational fears established a "fight or flight" response in ancient people where they'd either face-and-fight that sabre-toothed tiger, or flee if there was an escape route.
We may not have to fend off wild creatures but fearful responses are increasing to aspects of modern life, too, like using technology or giving a work presentation. These fear responses range from classic phobias (eg, acrophobia - fear of heights) and generalised anxiety, to panic attacks - probably the most disturbing fear-based experience of all. Many are irrational but others are a response to increasing demands on our time.
It's estimated around 18% of the UK population experience one or more of these fear responses. These are no laughing matter when you consider the story of Brenda Sharpe, 67, who recently died when she crashed her car having spotted a spider dangling above her. I increasingly see such panic and panic attacks in otherwise able people. Make no mistake, our modern life is conducive to overwhelming people, leaving them stressed, fearful and panicked.
Why wouldn’t our flight-or-fight response continue to protect us in modern life? Because many feel trapped by the way they live. They have nowhere to "flee", e.g., there’s no escaping mobiles, e-mail and Blackberries. People feel obliged to keep them on 24/7. We’re also not supposed to "fight". Pistols drawn at dawn with your over-demanding manager? It wouldn't happen! This leaves many feeling helpless. That's when fears, that were once faced or fled from, override their ability to cope and they panic.
Many self-reliant types attempt to stifle fears (e.g., deadlines, work-overload, etc.). But unless they change aspects of their live styles causing them anxiety, these fears burst forth in the shape of panic attacks with the right trigger.
What Finally Triggers A Panic Attack?
When you've been stifling worries and stress there are a number of triggers for panic attacks. Common triggers include: feeling under-prepared for a business presentation, being short of time, having to rush between meetings, feeling behind at work, and taking on too many responsibilities. Negative lifestyle choices like too much caffeine, eating processed foods high in salt and/or sugar, and excess alcohol intake are also triggers. Others include, e.g., arguing with a colleague, friend or loved one, bereavement, relationship breakdown, not having time off, and having to juggle too many things like the demands of career and children that are often incompatible.
Symptoms vary widely between people and from one attack to another. Symptoms include a clamping or tightening sensation across the chest, shortness of breath, a fluttering sensation and/or palpitations of the heart, feeling dizzy, having sweaty palms, dry mouth, shaking, general anxiety, fearfulness and finding it hard to think clearly. In an extreme panic attack you may experience a feeling of being detached from reality or disorientation.
You might anticipate a panic attack as you identify the symptoms building. But what's daunting about many attacks is they suddenly strike as if from "nowhere". Because certain symptoms of panic attack may also indicate other issues like heartburn or more seriously, heart problems, you should see your GP about any that worry you.
Unfortunately as the symptoms build with an attack so too your panic grows. This induces a vicious cycle bringing on a more intense attack. Try these five points if finding yourself in the middle of an attack.
1/ Remove your self from any crowded conditions.
2/ Sit down if at all possible and steady your self.
3/ Regain control of your breathing by inhaling slowly to the count of five and exhaling slowly to the count of five.
4/ Sip water slowly (carry a water bottle with you).
5/ Distract yourself, e.g., phone a friend or think about something unrelated to your day like a calming holiday memory.
Over the long term lifestyle changes are necessary to prevent attacks. It's no good simply "dealing with" an attack when it occurs. Yes, a few are lucky and only ever have one attack. Once they start, if you don't make relevant changes to overcome them, they tend to continue. It's important to re-evaluate the following areas of your life.
* General time management - are you always time-short? Start saying No to extra responsibilities and worry less about getting further ahead at work, instead enjoy a better quality of life.
* Work and family - discuss with your manager how to streamline work and be more efficient. At home delegate chores and let any perfectionist tendencies go. Face conflict head on calmly. Resist sweeping things under the carpet.
* Your relationships - are they unhappy or relegated to second place? Time to nurture them, as that’s a protective factor against future attacks.
* Overall health - if you're eating on the run, drinking to relieve stress, smoking and not exercising, such things exacerbate attacks.
* Leisure time - just as loving relationships improve your ability to prevent attacks so too does giving yourself time to enjoy a book, a walk, a film, etc.
* Relaxation and breathing techniques - as attacks involve many physical symptoms it's important to learn to relax major muscle groups and breathe in a controlled fashion. Practise daily sitting still, warm and comfortably. In turn, tense and then relax every major muscle group. Meditate on your breathing making it measured and relaxed.
Ultimately you can get help and help yourself – you don’t have to live a life of fear and panic.
No Panic Organisation Telephone - 0808-808-0545; Website www.nopanic.org.uk
National Phobics Society - 0870-122-2325; Website www.phobics-society.org.uk
Published in The Express Newspaper