Stress is not the same as a sudden panic attack, according to Marla Ahlgrimm.
Q: What is a panic attack and how can I know the difference between that and stress?
Marla Ahlgrimm: While it’s possible that a panic attack is related to stress, a true attack is a sudden episode of concentrated fear that can last from just a few minutes to almost half an hour. Unlike sudden bursts of stress, someone experiencing a panic attack has more difficulty processing logical thoughts to calm down.
Q: What are the stages of a panic attack?
Marla Ahlgrimm: A panic attack usually plays out in three stages. First, without warning, an outside trigger will send an alarm to your brain that indicates something is wrong. Once the brain processes these feelings, the body chimes in with a physiologic response. These range from sweating and shaking to stomach discomfort and vertigo. The attack pinnacles with more severe physical and psychological responses.
Q: Why does a panic attack often feel like a heart attack?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The body’s response to a panic attack is the same as when under periods of extreme duress (car wreck, imminent physical harm). The heart rate may increase, intensifying the fear. A heavy heart rate along with sweaty palms and shortness of breath may very well feel like a heart attack to the person experiencing these symptoms. Fortunately, there are usually no long-term side effects to having a panic attack which is good news to those who believe they’re experiencing a more life threatening event like a heart attack.
Q: Is it possible to calm myself down during a panic attack?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Though it may seem impossible at the time, you can bring yourself out of a panic attack. One of the most important things is to simply breathe. Focus on your breaths. Really take the time to listen and feel the airflow. This will distract your mind long enough to get a grip on what’s happening.