In today’s world, threats are wildly different from the likes of encountering a tiger in the wild. They could be:
- A big presentation at college, or work
- An interview
- Getting stuck in an elevator
- Seeing an insect or a reptile you’re scared of
- Being chased by a street dog.
When we are faced with the above situations, we experience shaky legs or "butterflies in our stomach", this is the body's fight or flight response working. After the danger, or the feeling of danger passes, so does the discomfort.
But there are other things can that cause us significant stress:
- Financial worry
- Worrying about health
- Work/college deadlines
- Safety and security
These worries tend to stay over time and repeatedly cause us stress. When heightened stress levels are constant, our brain’s ability to deal with them gets impaired—and we end up experiencing the symptoms of the fight or flight response, even when there is no threat around us. This experience is known as a panic attack.
A panic attack is an intense episode of fear that can feel very uncomfortable—for the person experiencing it—due to the overload of symptoms in different parts of the mind and body.
There are four types of symptoms that occur:
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to focus
- Fear of dying
- Memory lapses
- Urge to cry
- Feeling worried
- “I’m going to lose control”
- “I’m going to faint”
- “I will never feel normal again”
The symptoms listed are only a few examples of what can occur during a panic attack.
There are over a hundred symptoms that one could experience in varying degrees and combinations. A panic attack generally lasts for 20 minutes, and peaks at the ten-minute mark.
There are a number of things that one can do to calm down during a panic attack.
Grounding exercises are techniques that help the brain realize that there are no real threats around us. This is accomplished by consciously using all of our senses—touching things around us, feeling the ground with our bare feet, smelling the air, paying attention to the sounds around us, and keenly observing our surroundings.
Deep breathing exercises
When we are having a panic attack, our lung functions increase, and this causes us to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation leads to a decrease in the normal CO2 levels in our blood—consciously taking deep breaths can normalize these levels and help reduce the symptoms of the panic attack.
To do this exercise, take a deep breath through your nose. Hold it for five seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth by making an ‘o’ shape with it. Repeat, until the panic attack subsides.