What it is and how to cope?

Out of the blue, your heart starts pounding, you begin to sweat, your throat tightens and you struggle to breathe. These are just some of the symptoms of a panic attack, an anxiety disorder that is on the rise worldwide.

In South Africa, our high crime rate, the many hardships we face and our stressful lifestyles are all adding to the rise in stress-related disorders. In fact, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) one in five South Africans is affected by anxiety every year. This day opens the door to spreading the word about stress and emphasising the importance of talking about it.

 

But what is a panic disorder exactly?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of feeling terrified and overwhelmed, where your body physically responds to this fear, although there is no obvious threat or danger. Symptoms of a panic attack include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, numbness, choking sensations or chest pain. In fact, many people having panic attacks believe they are having a heart attack or a stroke, which only makes the situation worse. The term ‘panic disorder’ applies when you suffer multiple panic attacks.

 

What to do if you suffer from a panic disorder?

First of all, suffering from panic attacks – indeed any form of anxiety – is nothing to be ashamed of.  A panic disorder can prevent you living a normal life, so it is best to take steps towards ensuring your mental wellness as soon as possible:

 

Strategies for coping with panic attacks:

  • Don’t fight the feeling: Although the symptoms of a panic attack may be terrifying, they are not dangerous – they are your body’s response to stress. Face your feelings, rather than fighting them, and wait until they pass. A panic attack lasts for between five and 10 minutes.
  • Replace frightening thoughts with calm ones.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly, and concentrate on breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose. If you can control your breathing, the other symptoms will pass more quickly.
  • Try to identify what triggers your attacks. If you know what brings them on, then you can work at overcoming the issues.
  • Try to stay away from stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, and get regular exercise. This will reduce your stress levels in the long run.
  • Knowledge is power: The more you read up on panic attacks, panic disorder and anxiety, the more you will be in a position to help yourself. SADAG has some useful information on anxiety.
  • Get help. There is medication that can help, or better still, start by finding a councilor that you can talk to. (Hyperlink To Company Wellness Counselling Site: CWS EAP – Your Employee Assistance Programme)