The very first time you see a doctor about a panic attack is usually after your first experience. The reason for this is that you are probably unaware of what you have just been through. The symptoms and the effects of panic feel so very ‘physical’ that it can come as a shock to be told you have suffered a period of intense anxiety.
The experience of panic
Your panic event probably felt like a heart attack. You felt breathless and disorientated and had you or someone else taken your pulse, it would almost certainly have been rapid and possibly irregular. You would have felt dizzy, nauseous and shaky. Even though these panic symptoms probably passed between five and 30 minutes later, you no doubt felt fortunate to have come through the experience intact.
As a result of this dreadful experience you probably took yourself to the hospital or you saw your family doctor. After running tests and taking blood samples the conclusion is reached that your heart is fine. How does this leave you feeling? Stupid? Embarrassed? Perplexed?
Courses of action
You may be one of many people for whom a panic attack occurs just once in a lifetime. On the other hand, you may experience the symptoms again. If you do, there is a likelihood of one of two courses of action. The first is that you continue to seek medical advice. The second is that you feel so embarrassed and self-conscious that you become overly worried about wasting your doctor’s time. If you fall into this second category you may be in danger of missing underlying physical causes.
There is a lot to be said for self-management of panic, but it’s equally important that you don’t buy into every physical symptom as a sign of anxiety. If you continue to experience panic attacks, it’s probably a good idea to stay in contact with your doctor. This is a good way to have your blood pressure monitored and your doctor may also prescribe medication to help take the edge of your worst symptoms. Always seek medical advice if you continue to feel ill once your breathing has returned to normal, or if you feel chest pains after attack has subsided.
At its worst, continued panic attacks can lead to a condition called panic disorder. Panic disorder, if left untreated, is a draining condition in which other mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia, develop. In order to prevent the life of isolation and fear that usually accompanies panic disorder, it’s important to work on ways to prevent future panic attacks.
Simple lifestyle changes can have a powerful effect:
- Cut out sugary and fatty foods from your diet and replace them with a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Try to eat regular meals, as this helps steady your blood sugar levels.
- Regard alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine as enemies. Avoid them.
- Take daily exercise. Focus on good posture. Natural exercise, such as walking, swimming, jogging, or cycling is fine so long as it’s done consistently and is enough to get your heart moving.
There is no need to shoulder the burden of panic alone. Cognitive behavioral therapy has an excellent track record in helping to overcome or alleviate the worst symptoms of panic. However, don’t cut your doctor out of the loop over concerns that you may be wasting their time. Your health is also their concern, so use all the services available to your best advantage.
Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.