Panic attacks are certainly not uncommon, I think it is something like 1 in 10 people will have one at some point in their lives. Some people have one and that’s it, they never return. Others have periods of them and periods of not having them throughout their life. While on the extreme end people have them regularly, sometimes connected to a certain event/feeling/time but sometimes just completely randomly, I know of somebody who once had one while shopping in a supermarket.
I think the hardest thing about this blog post is trying to explain what a panic attack is like because unless you’ve had one then you won’t fully understand, however equally I may have had a very different experience to somebody else who has had a panic attack. The easiest way for me to explain is to go through what happens for me.
Those of you who have seen me having a panic attack have normally managed to remain quite calm which is mildly impressive (but I don’t like to hand out compliments to often!). The most important thing when helping somebody through a panic attack is to stay calm yourself, because panicking is counter productive and leads to two of you in a state instead of one! It is also quite beneficial to be kind to the person having a panic attack, I once had a security guard tell me to calm down and stop making a scene. Not only did this not help calm me down, it actually made things a lot worse as I was then panicking about embarrassing myself too! My two simple tips are to get the person anything they need and don’t crowd them! However both of these are just personal preferences and if you know somebody who suffers from panic attacks it is probably worth asking (at a time when they are NOT having a panic attack) what the best thing to do is when they are having one.
Right so you’ve heard the facts, heard my advice, now onto the harder part of explaining what a panic attack is actually like. For me, I can tell one is coming on when my heart starts racing and my arm starts shaking and I can’t get it to stop. This will gradually get worse over a few minutes and I also get a ringing in my ears, a throbbing headache and find it hard to breathe (in fact…I’ve had panic attacks mistaken for asthma attacks before, by other people and myself!) A panic attack normally builds up and reaches a peak before it gets better. The worst I’ve ever had I actually saw myself having a panic attack in my mind which was actually quite scary and distressing – so apologies to those who have to had to watch me having panic attacks. Once the symptoms have died down and I’m a bit calmer I often feel quite disorientated, it’s actually quite similar to being a bit tipsy!
I said above that panic attacks can be linked to a certain activity or feeling. For me the main link I have found is large crowds, rowdy groups (basically drunk people) and being somewhere that I can’t get out of (like an exam hall!) This has obviously proved a bit annoying when you’re a student! It’s actually taken me a little while to accept that clubbing and getting drunk probably isn’t for me anymore but I would MUCH rather sit at home and read a book and be calm than sit outside a club feeling like I’m having a heart attack and I’m going to die (yes, it can feel like that!)
This may all sound a little bit crazy to you if you’ve never had any experience with panic attacks but it’s always good to be aware because you never know who might have one!
PS. I wouldn’t wish one upon my worst enemy (they’re horrible!) so I really hope none of you reading this ever has one!