Every have a panic attack?
No. Then, do I have a story for you, friend.
It started with a trip to urgent care.
I had severe dizzy spells during work that morning. It was not good. Things were swirling around, and I was having a bad time. I’m not the type of person that makes it obvious if something isn’t going right with me. If I’m not okay, I’m very good at keeping it to myself. My dizziness was being accompanied by shortness of breath as well. I was struggling, y’all. Finally, things got bad enough that my coworkers practically forced me to leave and get some medical treatment.
I clocked out and made my way to the nearest urgent care. I wasn’t sure about what was going on with me. I felt weird, more weird than usual. It’s a miracle I was able to drive.
The first urgent care advised me to get some bloodwork done, but they didn’t do that at my location. They told me to go to the emergency room. I wanted nothing to do with the ER. COVID was still a serious concern at this point, and I wanted to be nowhere near anyone’s hospital.
I went to a different urgent care instead. This facility was slightly more helpful. However, I had a massive round of dizziness and nausea while I was there, and they let me get my bearings for a while before sending me to the emergency room as well. They thought I might be having a cardiac emergency, and I needed a better facility.
Begrudgingly, I made my way to the nearest emergency room. After waiting for several hours to be seen, I found myself sitting on a hospital bed. The nurse had taken my vitals and found that my blood pressure was indeed elevated. She got me a cup so that I could provide a urine sample for the lab to analyze. Then, the nurse left me alone to walk around the bed to the small bathroom that was attached to my room. I stood up, walked around the bed, and was suddenly seized with the most incredible pain I’ve had in years.
Far Too Young to Die
I couldn’t breathe, and I fell across the hospital bed. Getting up was nearly impossible. I was consumed in waves of being hot and cold at the same time. My nausea got worse, and I wanted to vomit. My heart was racing, and I just knew I was having a heart attack. I was terrified that it was my time to go be with Jesus. I was ready, but not really, you know. I was more scared of dying alone in a hospital room than I expected.
After a few minutes that felt like eons, I regained some strength in my limbs. I crawled across the bed to catch my breath when the nurse returned. I tried to tell her what had just happened, but I don’t think the message was getting across. She kept asking me if I was going to pass out. I kept telling her that I didn’t know what that felt like because I’d never passed out before.
A week or two later, I was standing in line at a Noodles and Company with my husband. We had spent the day at the botanical gardens and were picking up some dinner. It had been a lovely afternoon. It was hot in there, and I was fanning myself when the creeping dread crawled into my chest again. I nearly fell over, but my husband caught me. He guided me to a table while I desperately tried to breathe. I was hot and cold at the same time, and my legs couldn’t support me. Sitting up straight was a challenge. The pain was awful, and I know I worried the staff in the restaurant. I’m sure they didn’t witness people acting the way I was every day.
I didn’t get any clarity on these strange occurrences until I talked to one of my coworkers. After I described the situation, they promptly said that what happened to me sounded like panic attacks. The statement was very matter-of-fact and without doubt or hesitation. I was floored.
I’d never had a panic attack in my life, and now they were weekly occurrences. So I did some research, and as it turns out, I had been having panic attacks. They are common symptoms of several mental illnesses, which I do know a bit about.
Do You Know What I’m Seeing?
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you can regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear. According to the DSM-IV-TR, to receive a diagnosis of panic disorder, a person must be experiencing spontaneous panic attacks. These attacks typically occur out-of-the-blue and involve a combination of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Panic disorder often manifests alongside other mental illnesses such as depression, general anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Anxiety is a common occurrence in everyone’s lives. Stressful situations can trigger the acute stress response, better known as the fight or flight response. According to stress.org, “In response to acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, including adrenaline and noradrenaline. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.” The acute stress response comes with some familiar symptoms: Dilated pupils, increased heart rate, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and trembling limbs. The reaction can last between 5 minutes and up to an hour, depending on the severity.
Panic attacks can have these symptoms as well as:
- Chest pain
- Feeling faint
- Hot flushes or chills
- Ringing in ears
- Dread or fear of dying
This response is a natural response to perceived or actual threats to the body or mind. You can understand how anxiety can take the fight or flight response to new heights. If the perception of a threat is frequent enough, the response may be more exaggerated in the body. Plus, it is perfectly understandable if the danger is identifiable. An attacker hiding behind a building can trigger this response, for example. However, psychological stress is not an easily recognizable threat. It is the absence of identifiable danger that actually intensifies the fear associated with panic attacks. This is one of the theories behind the causes of panic disorder, but there are several more out there.
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Treatment options are as varied as each case. Talk therapy can be beneficial to reduce a person’s overall stress level, and mindfulness and meditation practices can be beneficial if a person can recognize their triggers. Sometimes, medication is necessary to adjust the hormones present in the brain that can trigger a panic attack. A combination of techniques is what works best for most people.
I consulted with my doctors, and I have a treatment plan in place. I have a medication to take to lessen the symptoms should another panic attack happen. There are also self-talk strategies I can use when my stress levels start rising. I can identify my triggers and will respectfully decline to remain in a situation that might be too much. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working for now. Regular monitoring and consultations with medical professionals are the plan of attack for my panic disorder.
Hopefully, taking those first steps is easy. Making a list of stressors and identifying what can be lessened or eliminated is a quick way to recognize where the problem may lie. It’s better to remove a threat instead of waiting for the challenge to occur. Constant vigilance, friends!
You got this. I have faith in you.
Take care. Be safe. I love you.