Your friend is breathing heavily, shaking and their forehead is covered in sweat, what do you do? Firstly, you must recognise they may be having a panic attack. Panic attacks are commonly caused by anxiety which can occur in people suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, as well as people who don’t. To help your friend you must recognise the symptoms and take appropriate action.
What Are Panic Attacks? What Are The Symptoms?
A panic attack is a sudden bout of extreme anxiety, displayed by several psychological and physical symptoms. They are sudden and can often appear for no reason. They will generally last for 5 to 20 minutes and you will feel unwell, in danger, and possibly believe you may die (even though you cannot die from panic attacks). The physical symptoms include:
– Heavy breathing
– Chest pains
– Feeling sick
– High pulse or palpitations
– Tense muscles
Not all of these symptoms may occur, often only 2 or 3 three symptoms will be present. The symptoms are caused by the body responding to what you think is a threat. Your body takes in more oxygen (shown by heavy breathing) and releases hormones such as adrenaline (causing the faster pulse and tense muscles).
What Should I Do?
If there is a cause of the panic attack, try to remove it. For example, if you know the panic attack was caused by a phobia, get them away from the fear. Getting them to a quieter area will help in most cases.
You must then try to slow down the breathing so that the carbon dioxide levels in the blood will return to normal. Breathing in deeply through the nose, and slowly back out the mouth can help. If hyperventilation occurs, breathe into a bag for 20 seconds, then without a bag for 20 seconds, and repeat until the breathing becomes more regular.
Controlling breathing will usually cause the other symptoms to go away.
Should I See A Doctor?
In a majority of cases, medical advice is not required. You should seek medical advice if:
– The panic attack continues after 20 minutes of attempting to control breathing
– The fast or irregular heartbeat remains after the panic attack ends
– You feel unwell after the panic attack ends
– You have regular panic attacks
Panic attacks will seem scary, but you should not worry about them. Most people will suffer at least one panic attack in their life, and they are not dangerous to your health. If you are concerned you should speak to a health professional, but remember the advice in this post and you should be fine.