It’s undoubtedly easy to see over exaggeration in the face of someone who is struggling, even when that is the furthest assumption from the truth.
Clearly, these occurrences happen daily. Specific topics relating back to sore spots and personal experiences are always subject to doubt. For example, I rarely avoid comparing my experiences to others when it comes to mental illness, and judgement is something that is, sadly, inherently human.
Here lies an important lesson that most of us have still yet to learn, including myself: we need to learn to appreciate other’s speaking out about experiences, and not undermine them by thinking we have it worse, or that their state of restlessness and unease is a fragment of their imagination or an attempt to gain an advantage or pity from those around them.
Panic attacks are experienced by people of all ages, and a global epidemic of mental illness, lack of satisfaction with ourselves and dangerously low levels of self-esteem has caused them to be more frequent, and to occur earlier on in an individual’s life. However, for an issue that is experienced by millions of people daily, there is a lot we have yet to figure out about it: how does it feel? What causes them? How do you recognize panic attacks? How do you stop them yourself or for someone else?
Let this be an attempt at a clumsy response to said questions, and please keep in mind that all answers are drawn from a minor pool of witnesses, victims and personal testimony, and that they may not apply to everyone.
How does it feel?
If I had to describe it with a tangible event that some of you may have experienced, I would have to say that panic attacks feel like that singular moment that finish nightmares before transferring you back to reality; like continuously falling down a well and awaiting either death or a miracle. More concretely, your heart races and catching your breath becomes a burden of a task.
What causes them?
Physiologically, a panic attack is an extreme version of the flight or fight response our bodies have to danger. Perhaps being furiously chased by a bear might put this into context. However, in our Western Liberal Democracies and the passiveness of our lives, it mostly comes from emotional fear or increased stress. Individually, looking a context patterns between panic attack occurrences and deeper introspection might help you figure out a personalized causal relationship. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task. Enlisting the help of your counsellor or asking a professional psychologist or psychiatric for help could be the answer. Guilt is my predominant emotion, and I have found that it has been the reason behind almost every single one of my panic attacks. On a happier note, finding out the personal cause of your panic attacks is the first step in the direction of solving the issue. What is it that stresses you out? Is that thing really necessary to have in your life? If so, is there anything else in your life less important that is causing large amounts of distress for you? And so on and so forth…
How do you recognize panic attacks?
Panic attacks usually feel similar for people who are used to dealing with them. However, if this is your first time having a panic attack, or if you are trying to determine the state of someone in your entourage, things might be a little easier. A good indicator is always heavy breathing, or tight breathing. Often times, the individual might hold on to their chest or could be completely paralyzed in fear. All in all, symptoms of these are fairly universal, and fairly easy to recognize in the long-run, if not immediately. Always look for intense stress paired with shaky hands, heavy breathing or a racing heartbeat.
How do you stop them yourself or for someone else?
As discussed in the beginning of this text, one of the worst things to do is to undermine them or guilt trip them for feeling the way they are feeling, no matter how irrational the matter may seem to you. The truth is, we all have triggers. Based on personal experiences and even possibly simple predispositions; some things are bound to have more impact on some than others, and that has no link with the relevance of their feelings.
Furthermore, the most important aspect of taking care of someone who has a panic attack is focusing all of your attention onto them. Doing otherwise will simply make the person feel unheard or uncared for, resulting in the same effects as undermining their feelings directly.