With all the Sushant Singh Rajput case drama I’ve been following on Indian news channels, many things have stood out, from drug use to bipolar issues and anxiety (which I too suffer from). I came across a report that says his mother, also had some mental health issues died of a panic attack; in other reports it says a brain haemorrhage. While I’ve been doing some research my anxiety levels have spiked. It made me wonder – how bad can a panic attack get? And can it lead to death?
Answered by Sneha John, Counselling Psychologist, LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, Dubai
Thank you for reaching for help regarding this concern. I would like to appreciate you for your openness and vulnerability in sharing about the impact made by the recent Sushant Singh Rajput case on your overall emotional well-being. It is commendable that you have reached out to a mental health professional to seek closure on the severity of panic attacks, rather than solely ruminating on news headlines. I will answer your question by shedding some light on what actually happens during a panic attack.
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear with or without an apparent reason. They are the body’s way of responding to overwhelming situations marked by a sense of powerlessness and impending doom. Panic attacks are generally brief, lasting 10-20 minutes, although some symptoms may persist longer. Panic attacks are a result of anxiety accumulated over a period of time.
A panic attack may be perceived as a heart-attack due to physiological symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, numbness of hands or feet and dizziness. However, they are distinctly different. Panic attacks arise when stress hormones trigger the body's "fight or flight" response. They gradually subside on their own. Things to be aware of...
Safety first: You must ensure that you are in a safe place and seated. If driving, park your car as soon as your notice the physical symptoms (heart rate increasing, palpitations or breathlessness). Some people also feel light-headed during a panic attack and so it is important to find a place to sit. Having done this, close your eyes and gently focus on your breathing. It may start of as shallow breathing, notice that. Allow your breathing to shift towards full, deep breaths. Now, with eyes remained closed, visualize a safe place (for example, your bedroom, the beach or a favourite cafe). Then comes the self-talk, ‘I am safe and secure.’
Know your emotional triggers: Behind every panic attack is an underlying emotional trigger that often remains unnoticed. A trigger is an emotional experience that takes us back to the past and arouses old feelings and behaviours. For example, being asked to do something you do not want to do. A trigger is not always the specific situation. Emotional triggers can be spotted by befriending your emotions rather than avoiding them as they arise. Observe the emotion (both pleasant and unpleasant) and your bodily sensations.
This too shall pass: During the event of a panic attack, it may seem difficult to breath. When you’re panicking and you feel like you can’t breathe, the tendency is to start breathing faster and shallower. It may feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, when you’re actually taking in way too much. Pay as much attention to exhaling as you do to inhaling; imagine releasing fear and tension with each long, steady breath out.
Engage your five senses: Since panic attacks involve sudden physiological responses, our role would be to find anchors within the situation that will help make us feel secure. Practice grounding techniques on a daily basis when you are relaxed and comfortable so that you are equipped to deal with the panic. Your anchors are your five senses- sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, which remain constant regardless of the situation.
A simple grounding exercise could be to start by slow, deep breathing (inhale through nose, hold for 5 seconds and exhale though nose) and then notice 5 things you can see around you ( emphasis on the word around); 4 things you can touch (an example include pressing your feet firmly to the ground and noticing how that feels); 3 things you can hear; 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. The goal here is to help us shift our focus beyond the panic-causing situation.
Appreciate and acknowledge your progress: Keep a simple monitoring diary to keep track of your mood which includes logging the frequency of the panic attacks. Appreciate yourself for valuing your emotional health and keeping track of how you are doing. Having support from a licensed mental health professional can help you find a long-term solution to the panic attacks by recognising your emotional triggers. The key would be to intervene early before allowing the panic attacks to be more frequent and prolonged. With the right support and consistency.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.