During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, an Australian swimmer barely qualified for the finals. Eighteen years later, he admitted that
during that milestone semis heat, he experienced breathing problems. He froze and felt pain in his diaphragm which caused him to start panicking halfway through the heat. Kieren Perkins went on to win the gold in the 1500 meter race but it took him 18 years to come out and admit to the public exactly what happened that fateful day when he almost lost. He confessed that on that moment, his thoughts were centered on an “amazing, irrational fear that your life as you know it is about to end.” Fear is one of the panic attack symptoms but it is difficult to diagnose especially if the person isn’t known to experience fear unexpectedly.
Many people, in fact about 6 million Americans, suffer from panic disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that can be disabling and terrifying. The problem with panic disorder is a tendency for many to self-diagnose and reach the wrong conclusion as to the source of the panic which means treatment, if any, is invariably incorrect.
The Origins of the Word “Panic”
Panic comes from the antics of the Greek god Pan, who was part man, part goat. Pan was known as a party guy who loved to scare mortals and send them screaming in fear. However, he was also known to be a peaceful god prone only to scare tactics when his territory was threatened. His panic powers were legendary which is why there is the term, “blind panic.”
Recognizing and Understanding Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic disorder is still one of the most misunderstood anxiety conditions in the world. Panic disorder happens when panic attacks occur with frequency. The symptoms are deceptive and hard to control. Many people who do not suffer from panic attacks tend to treat those who do as persons who overreact or who are “too dramatic.” Scientifically, when a panic attack occurs, the person experiences an adrenaline rush that leads to uncontrollable physical symptoms – and most often, they feel helpless and traumatized. An average panic attack starts without warning and can peak after 10 minutes of elevated anxiety and fear.
The most common symptoms of a panic attack are:
- Shaking or trembling
- Unexplained sweating
- A fast heart rate, a pounding heart
- Difficulty in breathing
- Chest discomfort or chest pain
- Dizziness or nausea
- Feeling like you’re dying or going crazy
- Choking sensation, feeling claustrophobic or detached from reality
- Hot flashes, chills
These panic attack symptoms can happen in combination or singularly. Often, an attack leaves a person unable to explain or express what one is going through. The person could suddenly freeze and be unable to move but with eyes wide-open and scared.
Attacks at night are commonly described as a sudden awakening with an intense feeling of dread. However, the person would not be able to recall having a nightmare so it becomes difficult to explain the agitation. Most nocturnal panic attacks last an average of 10 minutes. It can sometimes be shortened by talking, drinking water, or walking around. Comparing men and women, the symptoms for women tend to circle around respiratory signs like shortness of breath and agitated breathing. Women are also more likely to experience panic attacks than men.
Treatable Panic Disorder
A panic disorder can be treated even if doctors and medical researchers remain unsure of its cause. A common theory on the cause for panic attacks is a milestone event in one’s life like marriage, death, pregnancy, puberty, or divorce. It is also possible that panic attacks are hereditary. Common treatments for panic disorder are medication and psychotherapy. Medication is prescribed and cannot be bought over the counter. These drugs are highly addictive leading most doctors to avoid extended use. For this reason, doctors also tend to initially prescribe a low dose. There are drugs to prevent attacks and other drugs to take during a panic attack.
Persons who experience panic attack symptoms should also consider the following solutions:
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
- Exercise and try meditation or relaxation exercises
- Alternative medication such as herbal remedies
You’re Not Alone
There are many people who suffer silently about panic disorder. Fortunately, there are also high profile personalities willing to share their personal experiences with panic. Bringing it out in the open helps those who suffer from panic attacks deal with their condition and not fear judgment from others through an awareness campaign. Some of these popular figures who admit to panic disorder are rocker Davie Bowie, Oprah Winfrey, Johnny Depp, and Scarlett Johansson.
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