One person's personal experience:

So I'm sitting in a college class on the back row, as usual. I light up a cigarette -- This was back when you could actually smoke in public, anywhere, without anyone thinking twice about it. And it happens. This isn't the first time, either. I'm going to have to get up and leave this room, right now.

I walk the halls, trying to calm down a little bit. When I come back to class, my friend who's sitting next to me says, "You don't look so good." I know; my face is blanched and my hands are shaking.

I tell him about these episodes I've been having. He asks if I've been doing a lot of acid lately. I say, "No." And then he says something to me that was very important. Have you ever known a kid who was older than his years? A kid who was more like an old man trapped in a kid's body? That's the way it was with this guy.

Anyway, in all his great wisdom, he takes a long look at me and says, "Maybe you're just taking yourself too seriously."

I thought about that for the rest of the day, and do you know that I've not had anything like that happen to me since? And that was several years ago.

Until now.

I used to get them all the time. But there are some ways of dealing with them -- some of them are tricks, some of them are changes in the way you see things.

First of all, you may be taking yourself too seriously. In the long term, absorbing this idea will probably do the most good. (Thank you, dannye.) I'm working on this one.

But there are often more immediate concerns -- confronting and changing the way you see the world takes some time and hard questionning, and you don't have time for this if you are panicking. To stop one that is in progress, try focusing on the word:


Just focus on the word until it becomes the only word in your mind. Don't even say to yourself: "If I do this, everything will be okay." Just focus on the word: LIMP. It works.

You'll feel a little less afraid of the panic attacks when you understand that there is a way out. They do go away, and you didn't die the last time it happened. Try watching your thoughts during an attack -- step back and look at the thoughts, without feeding them. If you are able to step back like this, you'll notice that they go away of their own accord. They need to be fed in order to take you over, as they do during a full blown attack. Detach and watch them, and they can't grow.

Remember the panicked thoughts. Write them down. When you are more calm, go back and look at them. You will learn many, many things about yourself this way. You may be more irrational, and also more imaginative, than you ever imagined. Yes, this was you thinking these things. Get used to it. You may even learn to laugh about it.

I've been dealing with anxiety attacks for about three years now. Explaining how they feel is fairly easy, but trying to explain why they happen is another issue. If you have ever been (or can imagine being) in a hospital emergency room waiting for "the news", that's pretty close to what it feels like. Your mind races, your thoughts blur, and anything you think of you begin to worry about. It makes it very hard to function because you feel like any piece of your world could suddenly collapse around you. Sometimes they last all day, relentlessly making you feel like something horrible is about to happen, even though you don't what that something is. Other days they last for an hour or two and suddenly disappear. Whenever they stop, they leave you feeling ecstatic and ready to take on the world. Until, of course, it comes back again the next morning or afternoon or two days later. You never can tell. The randomness of duration and frequency are what can drive you insane. You can have two perfect days, and crash the third. Or, have a perfect day interrupted at various intervals. Like I said, you never can tell.

Why do they happen you ask? That's an even better question, because in three years I haven't figured out a good answer. Sometimes it can be something as small as being hungry or having someone or something scare you accidentally. Sometimes it's something more obvious like a midterm or a paper or missing your girlfriend. I've gotten pretty good at closing my eyes, taking deep breaths and trying to relax until they go away, but that doesn't always work. Sometimes you just have to ride them through. Another characteristic of anxiety attacks, after you've had them quite consistently, is that nearly every time you get one you think that "this is it", and you just might have a breakdown or be put in a permanently anxious state this time. Another contributing factor is probably the way I think. I took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) this past summer, and it indicated that my primary personality factor was ruminant thinking. In other words, I think things over endlessly without getting anywhere (chewing the cud or getting something stuck in your head are other ways to say it). Getting a particular issue stuck in a circle in your head doesn't help to let go or relax very much.

I'm quite sure that my anxiety attacks are related to(perhaps a miniature version of) the full blown panic attacks that I'm almost certain to get in my mid to late 20's. My dad's whole side of the family, all of his brothers and sisters, have had panic attacks. The way my dad explained panic attacks to me a few years ago is that people think they're having a heart attack when they get one. You get blurry, tunnel vision, staggered breathing, and a huge adrenal kick, among other things. They have medicine for it, but you don't know when you'll need the medicine until you actually get that first panic attack, if you ever do. It's basically a waiting game. My dad was somewhat concerned about telling me about them as early as he did. Personally, I'd rather know in advance than have a panic attack spring on me and have no idea what's going on. For the rest of you, remember, I KNOW I have a genetic predisposition for it so relax, I'm not trying to scare you.

One thing that can help with panic attacks (and presumably anxiety attacks) is triptophan. Triptophan is a chemical found naturally in such foods as turkey and asparagus that has been found to help reduce symptoms of panic attacks. It was formerly available in a pill form by prescription. However, from my understanding, it has been taken off the market in the U.S. by the FDA due to a "bad batch" that was created somewhere down the line. My uncle used to get triptophan, and my dad has actually eaten turkey when he's felt stressed and on the verge of panic.

At any rate, there's some basic information about anxiety and panic attacks from personal experience.

P.S. Writing or talking about them can help get rid of them sometimes.

First off, admit you have a problem and get help. If it's interfering with your daily activities, you need to seek help before it get's worse. In my case, it started off rather mildly, but over time led to depression and isolation. I finally talked it over with my parents and went to see a doctor. I was given some drugs (I don't remember what, it was a while ago) which helped to calm me down. This really helped me a lot, it gave me some time off to realize that I was ok and these panic attacks were just that and nothing more. Since then, I have learned to spot them coming on and avoid them. So here is my advice.

Learn to feel them coming
It's not always obvious. Be aware of the warning signs. Elevated pulse, nervousness, pounding heart, sweating, nausea, etc. When you have an attack, think back to how you felt 15 minutes ago and try to spot those feelings next time.

Do Something!
Yes, when you're having a panic attack, the last thing you want to do is to go do something. But it helps. Force yourself to go for a walk. Get up and move around. Don't just sit there and focus on your panic. On the flip side, don't put yourself in a dangerous situation. For example, going for a drive would be a bad idea.

Panic attacks feed off themselves. The physical effects of a panic attack tend to cause an increase in adrenaline and make the problem worse. Take deep, slow breaths. When you begin to hyperventilate, you decrease the oxygen in your blood. This triggers an automatic panic reflex in your brain which makes things a lot worse. Tell yourself it is a panic attack, and you can breath. Force yourself to take deep breaths, it helps.

Take care of yourself
Avoid stimulants. Eat properly. Get enough sleep. Get plenty of exercise. All these things will help to keep your mind and body healthy.

The key is really in learning to recognize an oncoming attack and prevent it from escalating by focusing on breathing and relaxing. This isn't always easy and a good psychologist can help you to learn to do this. Don't wait until it's gotten bad to seek help, the sooner you can get a handle on the problem, the better.

To address dead's advice a bit, my personal feeling is that whatever works for you is the best. We are all different and we all react to things differently. With that said, I think there's a huge difference between avoiding a problem, and prevening a problem from escalating. Addressing your problem is a very important step, however I do not wish to spend the rest of my life facing my panic. By nature, a panic attack is not rational. My preference is to not spend the rest of my life dealing with panic attacks, and thus I feel that learning to cut them off at the pass is far more preferential to letting them come on so you can face them. When I am in the grip of a panic attack, I cannot reason with myself, sit there, and stay calm. I think this is a key difference between a true panic attack and an anxiety attack, and I think they are often confused. A true panic attack is full fledged panic. You cannot reason. You cannot think. You cannot force yourself to calm down. You are a slave to your panic and cannot function while the attack is going on. This is not something I believe you can sit there and calmly wait out like you can with an anxiety attack. Like I said, preventing a problem from escalating is not the same thing as avoiding the problem.

As for the issue of medication, I think it really depends on the individual. Drugs as a whole are not evil. Yes, many drugs have bad side effects and are not the right answer for everyone. However, some people have severe panic attacks that can interfere with a a persons daily life. For some people, they simply cannot get a grip on their panic, and it leads to a downward spiral causing depression and even self harm. Thus, for some people, I think drugs are needed to help them get a grip on their disorder. For me, I was on a very mild anti-depressant for about a month, and I think this was essential to helping me cope. It gave me a period without the fear and panic to understand that this was just a mental disorder, that nothing serious was wrong with me and that I wasn't dying. Once I gained this perspective, I was able to drop off of the medecine and deal with the problem on my own. I have not had serious panic attacks since.

Like I said, this isn't a black and white issue, and what worked for me may not work for everyone. But I think it's important that you explore your options and find out what works for you. And please, do it before things get to the point where you can't deal with them any longer.

A typical response to hearing the phrase "panic attack" in conversation is lighthearted skepticism, or at best, kind but incompletely-understanding empathy. I wasn't even aware it was an actual condition until it happened to me and I started to read up on it; I'd always thought it was just a sort of dramatic idiom.

If you're only familiar with the symptoms of a panic attack through secondhand knowledge, they do seem pretty strange. At the drop of a hat, and potentially due to no traceable trigger, one falls prey to:

Although this surely seems ridiculous to an unaffected individual, especially the last item on the list, the feelings are indistinguishable from reality to those suffering the panic attack. Depending on the severity of one's affliction with panic disorder, they may find it hard to manage previously straightforward aspects of their life, and it is not uncommon for one in the grip of a particularly intense attack to take an unnecessary trip to the emergency room. Although no outright "cure" is available, there are some prescription drugs and psychiatric techniques that can help. On a personal note, I've found that spending time in the company of close friends, or even simpler things like making your way to some fresh air can help the situation a lot.

One serious problem with panic attacks is that they are often mistaken for other afflictions, such as asthma attacks or heart attacks. The result can be (and often is) that the panic attack is misdiagnosed and treated inappropriately.

As an asthma sufferer myself, I have witnessed people in the throes of a panic attack - and mistaken them for fellow asthmatics. The error is very easy to make, since the surface symptoms (wheezing, difficulty breathing, clammy skin, physical weakness) are very similar.

Furthermore, though patients with a predilection towards panic attacks are undoubtedly suffering from a genuine and very debilitating ailment, there is a tendency to disregard their behaviour as mere hysterics. In particular, it is a deplorable fact that gender bias is often applied (both by health care professionals and by friends and relations) - female patients are often regarded as hysterical hypochondriacs, and male patients are often treated with condescension, as cowards.

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