I hope you can help me out with this. I have had panic attacks for most of my adult life, and am now at my wit’s end. I have tried everything to stop them to no avail.
I am a mum of two young children, and don’t have to work. Both of my kids are in school, and I do not have anything to worry about really, so I just don’t understand why I panic.
I know I am an anxious person, and worry a lot about nonsense really 🙂 Even writing to you, is freaking me out! I have been to my doctor and put on lexapro, I have been taking this for six months now. At the start, once I got over the mad head zaps and side effects, I thought it was working. Maybe it is not for me, as I am still getting a couple of panic attacks a day, over nothing.
The bit I find the hardest to cope with is that I can’t sleep. When I go into bed, my heart is pumping and I am terrified. I usually wake up in a panic every night and leap out of bed. It has got to the stage where I leave my clothes at the side of the bed on the floor, so I can get dressed quickly, in case I need help.
My husband is great, he usually wakes up and helps to calm me down. But he is at work during the day. When I drop the kids off at school, I can feel it building when I have to talk to the other parents. I keep getting big intakes of breath, and just have to get back home.
I am passed the stage of being scared of them. Well, they are terrifying, but I no longer think that I am having a heart attack! I just want rid of them at this stage and need to know what to do.
Hi Ciara, thanks for the question, and I feel for you, I have had panic attacks myself, and they are very scary to say the least!
Let me start by saying there are things that you can do to get rid of panic attacks.
I am going to divide my answer into different sections, to help you make sense of it and you can then read the bits that interest you, and skip over the rest 🙂
Let me start by saying there are guidelines that tells us what works and what doesn’t, as opposed to just my own personal opinion. We go with the research! I am going to refer to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). This is a UK body, as I am trained and have my professional registrations with the UK, I shall use this. Also, we do not have this type of guidance yet in Ireland.
The NICE guidelines recommend (you can have a look at the NICE guidelines on their website)
- Psychological treatment
- Drug treatment, and
- Self help
The guidelines recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT.) This does not necessarily have to be face to face as computerized CBT is mentioned in the NICE guidelines.
From your email, you are already on Lexapro, so I will not cover medications options at this time.
There are many self help options, from the weird and whacky, to books, mp3’s and computerized CBT. I am going to tell you about computerized CBT as that is where the research is geared, and also what is used the NHS in the UK.
Things to watch out for:
Anything that promises a miracle cure. They don’t exist.
That is not to say, that one person could not use something and it stops their panic, but the problem is this. Once someone finds a cure, in order for it to be credible, it has to be researched. The research helps us to see if this was just a ‘one-off’ or whether it truly does ‘cure people.’
This is going to sound like an advert for my own program, as my own recommendations for what should be in any self help program, will of course be in mine, as I included the best of everything the research suggested. If you are interested in my own self help program, you can find out more below.
Self help options that will be useful will include ( in addition to CBT.)
Information on how your brain works
This is important, as so many times people have panic attacks and they do not know why. Having an understanding of what is happening in your brain, helps to answer “why does it happen?”
Understanding your brain and your nervous system, and how everything interacts, not only explains all of those frightening symptoms you feel, but also puts you in a position of power.
Let me break that last statement down a bit.
CBT is all well and good, but many people (maybe because the therapist does not fully understand) do not really know why they are doing it, or how it actually helps. It is not just about changing your thoughts.
What I am going to talk about now, is not really CBT, but it will help to explain why it is useful.
This is going to be a ‘rough and ready’ version of what happens. When you have a panic attack, it is largely down to stimulation of the fear response in your brain. You amygdala gets activated (your brain’s alarm bell), which is screaming out,
something really bad is about to happen, get your body ready
Your body is now primed and ready for what might only be continuing your weekly shop in Tesco’s. If you have a panic attack in Tesco’s you might understandably worry about this. How do you worry? With thoughts inside your head. Your own self talk.
Each time you worry, you are strengthening connections in your brain, with Tesco’s and panic, and next time you shop, your brain will give you what you have been worrying about – panic.
The ‘cognitive’ part of CBT, helps to change the way you speak inside your head. Changing your internal dialogue, help to lessen the connections in your brain.
When you get those scary feelings of panic, this is your nervous system. To get rid of these feelings you need to learn how to calm down your nervous system.
In CBT, this is classic breathing exercises and relaxation training. I personally prefer mindfulness, in addition to this.
The low down on the cure for panic attacks
As long as you do not expect a ‘cure’ to be something that happens in a miracle like fashion, but are prepared to put the work in, then yes, you can recover from panic attacks.
Be careful of wild promises, if they sound too good to be true, they usually are.
Whether you choose psychological treatment or self help, as long as the self help or psychological treatment includes the following, you will be armed with everything you need to get your life back.
- CBT – to change how you interact with panic, inside your own head
- Meditation or guided relaxation, to calm down your nervous system
- Information on how your brain works, as this is the key to pulling it all together.
Having a knowledge of the 3 things mentioned above, attacks your panic, from all possible angles, leaving no stone unturned.
I hope this helps,