A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When they occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder
Panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, but they’re now recognized as a real medical condition. Although panic attacks can significantly affect your quality of life, treatment can be very effective
Here is Johns’ Story
John had been struggling with anxiety his entire early life. His first panic attack occurred when he was just eight and at that age he had no idea what was going on. He had been cleaning his room (i.e., playing) all day, when suddenly he felt like he couldn’t catch his breath. His mother took him straight to A and E thinking he was having some weird reaction to a cleaning product he’d been using.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the case: The doctor told him and his mother that he was having a panic attack and hyperventilating. The doctor gave him a paper sack to breathe into. Soon Johns’ breathing was back to normal, but his journey to conquer panic attacks had only just begun.
After that first panic attack, John went through years of recurrence. He quickly learned about a few lifestyle changes that would help decrease the frequency and severity of his attacks. Caffeine came out of his diet. More exercise was added to his daily routine. Those two changes helped him right away.
Because he had started having panic attacks at such an early age, Johns’ parents were crucial to the treatment process — and his well-being. They helped him learn how to recognize that he was having a panic attack, and also how to cope with the symptoms.
As he discovered, the symptoms of a panic attack can mimic other ailments (such as a heart attack). On holiday one summer, he had a panic attack. It was so severe that his mother was convinced there was an underlying medical problem. They ended up in the A and E again, only to have what they both really knew confirmed: It was just another panic attack.
John had a particularly bad attack in his mid teens at school. It was so terrible that he had to leave the classroom. During the next couple of weeks, he kept finding himself in the same circumstance — panicked and having to leave the classroom. Finally, he was able to calm down and concentrate on the class.
As he grew out of his teens, panic attacks became less frequent — but when he did have them, they were harder to deal with. And they tended to be triggered by certain circumstances. For a long period of time he couldn’t drive, because every time he got behind the wheel an attack would occur.
Despite all of the things he had been doing to keep the attacks at bay (including therapy), nothing quite did the trick. Until he discovered mindfulness and meditation. After some practice, he noticed that he didn’t feel anxious anymore. The attacks began to taper off. Soon he was back to driving.
It’s been six years since John started to live mindfully and meditate on a regular basis. His attacks have become a thing of the past.Thankfully he seems to have learned to conquer panic attacks them once and for all.