Panic Attacks: Fears and Facts

As we discussed in the last post – panic attacks feel awful. Once you’ve had one, the last thing you ever want is to have another.

Unfortunately – when you start to worry about having another panic attack, you get more anxious and tense, and that puts you at higher risk of having more.

One of the reasons that people get so concerned, is that they worry about what could happen when they panic. The three biggest fears are:

–          What if I pass out?

–          What if I go crazy?

–          What if I get a heart attack and die?

It’s important and potentially helpful to know that a panic attack can’t cause any of these things.

When you have a panic attack, your breathing gets quick and shallow, which makes you feel dizzy; this can make you feel like you’re going to pass out. But – during panic, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure goes up. You can’t pass out when your blood pressure goes up – to pass out, your blood pressure needs to drop. So, nothing to fear behind door #1.

Going “crazy” means losing your grip on reality. In a panic attack, you’re painfully aware of every detail of the reality of what’s happening to you. No danger there – you’re not going to lose your marbles from a panic attack.

Fear of having a heart attack and dying is often the biggest fear that goes with panic attacks. Look – panic feels so awful, it’s understandable to think that you must be dying. It’s pretty common for people having panic attacks to end up in the emergency room, thinking it’s a heart attack. So – let’s go through this, step by step.

–          Panic feels awful, but is not dangerous. It cannot kill you, as bad as it feels to go through it.

–          If you’re having a panic attack, using deep breathing and relaxation strategies can make you feel better in a few minutes. If it’s a heart attack, relaxation and deep breathing won’t make a difference. (Yes, this is another reason why I keep carrying on about the importance of relaxation – if you never do it, it’s hard to know how while you’re in the middle of a panic attack…)

–          Panic almost always starts with quick shallow breathing (hyperventilating). With a heart attack, you don’t hyperventilate.

–          Your body might feel tingly all over with panic. With a heart attack, this is more focused, in your left arm.

–          Chest pain is different: panic comes with a sharp pain that comes and goes. Heart attack comes with a constant, crushing pain that feels like an elephant is sitting in the middle of your chest.

If you’re not sure what’s happening to you, by all means go to the emergency room; but, if your ticker’s been checked out and is in good shape, and you know that what you’re having is panic attacks, then learning the facts about panic, and using self-talk to remind yourself of this stuff while you’re dealing with a panic attack, becomes an important tool in helping yourself to make them go away faster, happen less often, and eventually, get rid of them.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Spouses want to know: Physical Symptoms of PTSD

Hello again!

Our next question is, “Does PTSD have physical side effects?”

The answer is, yes, absolutely.

Now – before I get any further into this topic – I want to check in with how you’re doing reading this.

If you didn’t know about physical side effects, you might be thinking, “Great. As if PTSD wasn’t bad enough, now I’ve got a whole laundry list of physical issues to worry about too…

Hey – I hear you. What can I say – I’m not pretending to be the bearer of good news here.

But – you know what? This is your body we’re talking about. Knowing this means you’ll know what to expect, what to talk to your family doctor about. That gives you more control of your health than not knowing.

Also – knowing that it’s related to your PTSD can actually be a relief. Otherwise, you’re left thinking you have this laundry list of stuff going on and you don’t know why.

We’ve talked before about how PTSD is basically a threat-response reflex gone into overdrive. So, the physical symptoms of PTSD come from this reflex being cranked into overdrive all the time.

When your body responds to threat, your heart rate goes up. When you have PTSD, your ticker’s working harder all the time. This puts you at higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Your threat-response reflex makes your muscles tense up, to help you either fight off a threat or run away. When your muscles are tense all the time, you can develop chronic pain, especially in areas like your shoulders and back. Tension also makes us clench our teeth; that can lead you to grind your teeth, meaning you might have chronic headaches and jaw pain.

Since your threat-response reflex directs all available energy towards survival, it shuts down functions that are not essential to dealing with an immediate threat. So, it will suppress your digestive system and your immune system, because these are not immediately essential when your survival is being threatened.

What this means is that PTSD can lower your immune system. You might be more likely to get infections and get sick more often.

The impact on your digestive system can mean chronic cramps or indigestion; changes to your appetite; chronic heartburn or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also occur with PTSD.

Your threat-response reflex also leads your body to release more sugar and cholesterol into your bloodstream to feed your muscles; so, with PTSD you may have high cholesterol. Also, there is a link between blood sugar and insulin. So, there’s a link between PTSD and insulin resistance, as well as PTSD and diabetes.

How’re you doing with all this? I know… It’s quite the list of potential physical symptoms. It might be a good idea to make an appointment with your family doctor to get checked out for some of these risks.

Also, keep in mind that learning to manage your PTSD symptoms will help to lessen some of all these other concerns as well – so please keep in mind that things can get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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