We had a one-on-one with leading psychiatrist Dr. Abdel Nasser Omar and got the lowdown on how to manage panic attacks, a common situation people may face in times of extreme stress.
CWM: Dr. Abdel Nasser, could you please tell us what makes a panic attack different from simple anxiety?
AO: The symptoms of a panic attack are very clearly recognizable. Your heart rate elevates dramatically, you can feel the pounding in your chest, you may become very short of breath and feel a numbness in your extremities. There is often a distinct feeling of loss of control, loss of sanity or even impending death. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape.
What usually causes a panic attack?
Panic attacks can be brought on by a sudden traumatic situation. They can also come through having to cope in unfamiliar social situations, there are numerous reasons, and each depends largely on the individual’s ability to cope.
How are panic attacks normally treated?
The first step should be to identify and face your fears. Avoidance will just reinforce that fear, whereas by making an effort to put yourself in a situation that first prompted the attack, you can make a positive step towards developing confidence and handling the situation.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is widely regarded as the treatment of choice by psychotherapy professionals. It is based on the idea that your attacks are triggered by negative thoughts and negative behaviors. You will be taught to identify your fears and recognise your symptoms during an attack. For immediate relief anti-panic medications can be prescribed and administered if you’re in the middle of a panic attack.
Are there breathing techniques that will help instantly?
Contrary to common belief, the solution does not lie in immediate deep breathing with an increase of oxygen, this does not create the PH balance the brain needs. The neuro-chemical pathways to the brain have actually been found to respond much better to an increase in C02, which is achieved by covering your face with your hands and starting slow, shallow breathing. This should restore the balance and enable you to adjust back to a normal breathing pattern.
What general advice is helpful?
Well known stimulants like tea, coffee, smoking cigarettes and shisha can all make your symptoms much worse during an attack. You can also gradually lower your level of everyday anxiety through a variety of techniques, including meditation and exercise. A healthy, balanced diet and enough foods rich in Vitamin B 6 can help a lot in avoiding anxiety and panic attacks. .manage panic attacks
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