By Robert Wheatley – Health and Innovations Editor
Every month, Trident Media will highlight certain mental disorders to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of your mind’s wellbeing. University can be stressful, so paying attention to your mental health is very important. If you’re ever feeling like you can’t cope, reach out to friends and family, and if needed, the University of Hertfordshire has services available to help manage your stress.
Panic attacks are typically a sudden, and at times overwhelming, mental and bodily experience in which one feels an onset of symptoms that cause intense anxiousness, with people often mistaking panic attacks for heart attacks, or ‘insanity’.
Symptoms include (but are not limited to):
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of breath
- Derealisation/Depersonalisation (feeling disconnected from reality, or oneself)
- Fear of ‘going insane’
While panic attacks are often short-lived, experiencing them for the first time, or in general, can be incredibly distressing, and one may develop a panic disorder if one starts to experience them often.
Exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unknown, but trauma, genetics, and chemical imbalance have been posited as potential triggers. Some experts wonder if our increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide could be a factor for some.
While panic attacks are frightening experiences, Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, recommends that ‘riding out’ the attacks is an excellent method of combatting one’s fear.
While such a suggestion may seem incredibly challenging, perhaps even insensitive to the plight of experiencing panic attacks, I can confirm that Salkovskis’ advice is sound. Previously experiencing anxiety attacks, I would often constantly escape from the situation, going to the bathroom, which eventually ended up with me becoming home-schooled.
Always remember that the symptoms are (a) temporary, and (b) non-harmful. They are very unpleasant experiences, but they will subside. If you can remain in the situation you are in, perhaps sitting with someone you trust that can reassure you, the symptoms will subside. Doing this ensures you (a) get used to the symptoms, meaning they will stop affecting you, and (b) will prevent negative association with the location you are in.
If needed, treatment options do exist for panic attacks and panic disorder. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is often used to manage symptoms of panic attacks, helping you to understand why you’re experiencing them, and what’s going on when you do. This will help you react to the situation with more confidence, enabling you to handle the symptoms, and, eventually, handle them without discomfort.
Antidepressants can be used to treat panic attacks and panic disorder, increasing the level of serotonin in your brain to help alleviate anxiousness and potential depression that might come with your anxiety.
I was prescribed Sertraline, which has been remarkably helpful, with panic attacks now being a highly rare event for me. Even if they occur, the CBT I received helped me manage my symptoms, ensuring I reacted appropriately when panic arises. While symptoms of panic attacks are very real, and are always distressing to some degree, treatment has almost entirely removed the discomfort they previously gave me.
Counselling can be beneficial, and this is offered by the University of Hertfordshire’s counselling services. These can refer you to GP services, and these may recommend medication to help you cope with symptoms — taking medication is something you need to discuss with a doctor.
As with all mental health conditions, and your emotional wellbeing in general, get support if and when you need it — you deserve happiness.
Disclaimer: while our articles utilise reliable sources, the best information available will be at your local GP.