Each year, millions of Americans suffer from panic attacks. By the numbers, the problem looks like this:
• About 1.7% of the adult U.S. population ages 18 to 54 – approximately 2.4 million Americans – has panic disorder in a given year.
• Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder.
• Panic disorder typically strikes in young adulthood. Roughly half of all people who have panic disorder develop the condition before age 24.
• Risk of developing panic disorder appears to be inherited.
With that as a backdrop, here are some tips and perspectives from two of Edmond Family Counseling’s therapists who have experience helping people cope with panic attacks by reducing the frequency and severity.
John Goetz, LPC
I would like to provide you with a narrative which may help a person suffering these attacks and begin to manage them. My story begins with you imagining yourself in Hawaii. You are surfing 5-10 foot waves off the cost of your favorite beach. You find yourself pumped with excitement, amazed by the beauty of your surroundings, and then you fall. The wave you were gracefully riding is crashing down on you, pulling you down to the bottom with a force you have never experienced before. Now comes the moment of truth. Every fiber in your body tells you to fight/panic, to fight your way to the surface, but you remember a vague thought telling you to relax and let the wave pull you till it releases you, then find the surface with your air bubbles, swim for it and take a breath. A panic attack is like a wave crashing down on you, pulling you deeper, and holding you down as you fight against it. If you are having an attack, you must ride the wave as it pushes you down like a crazy roller coaster until it gives you the opportunity to swim your way to calmer water. Like an experienced surfer you must think your way to safety. The bottom line is if you can talk yourself through the event and use behavioral techniques and/or medications to control the most severe symptoms you will decrease the intensity and the duration of these attacks. You will then be in a position to look at possible causal factors and deal effectively with them.
Quinton Ellis, LPC
Once you understand that your panic attacks are irrational, that is, that your fear and anxiety are not based in reality, you can start to think of them as brain malfunctions- and predictable ones at that. You know the symptoms, whether physical or psychological, and you know how long these glitches generally last. You know that they will end because they always do. At a certain point, you understand that most, if not all the time, your response to the glitch has been making the problem worse. You’ve been panicking because you’ve been panicking.
Next time, try accepting that you’re having another one of those ‘malfunctions’ and letting the dumb storm pass. You don’t try to swat the fly in your car, you just open a window and focus on your driving. Once you’re not so afraid of them they should occur less and less.
Edmond Family Counseling’s mission is to strengthen families and our community by championing mental health through prevention, education, and counseling. If you would like to learn more, check out http://www.edmondfamily.org.