Panic attacks are recurrent, unexpected and severe anxiety attacks, which are the main features of panic disorder. If you have experienced occasional sudden and overwhelming fear and anxiety that lasts for several minutes, pounding heart, feeling hot, sweating, running out of air, extreme restlessness, concentrating problems, and perhaps the fear of death, it may be a panic disorder that manifests as panic attack.
These panic attacks may not be related to a specific situation and, as a result, the momentum is usually unexpected. There is no clear consensus about the causes and the treatment of panic attacks, however there are several theories and in this article you can read about them.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that can include:
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Tremors, trembling or shaking
- Suffocation, shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- The feeling that something bad is about to happen, sense of impending doom or danger
- The symptoms may include chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Abdominal pain
- Fear of loss of control
- Fear of death
- Abdominal cramping
- Feeling of unreality or detachment (1).
The maximum level of symptoms usually occur within a few minutes. The duration of seizures varies and is very individual, but generally does not last more than half an hour.
It is not a life-threatening condition in itself, but it can cause secondary health concerns such as loss of consciousness due to hyperventilation. This can cause a person to fall and injure himself.
What Causes and Evokes Panic Attacks?
There are several theories about the causes of this condition, but there is no clear consensus. However, it is known that this disorder is genetically transmissible, and there is nearly a 50% chance that when you experience panic attacks, your children might also.
Your doctor will diagnose your condition based on your symptoms and the ability to meet certain criteria. These include the exclusion of certain phobias, such as agora and social phobia, as well as the absence of depression. The incidence of panic disorder is significantly higher among women than among men.
For the most part, panic attacks cannot be explained by any triggers, but they can also be a symptom of some other underlying problem. Panic attacks are linked with a variety of disorders, such as anxiety, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol abuse, drug use, and so on.
Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many who suffer from this disorder live in constant fear of a new attack. There are several risk factors that play a role in causing panic attacks.
Panic Attack Risk Factors
- High levels of stress or long-term stress
- Nature that is more open to negative emotions or sensitive to stress
- Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
- Nicotine (smoking)
- Traumatic life events, such as the death or serious illness of a loved one, serious accidents or sexual assault
- Excess caffeine
- Family history of panic disorder or panic attacks
- Major changes in your life (1)
Accompanying diseases might be asthma, epilepsy, migraine and tension headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, restless legs syndrome, persistent fatigue, cardiovascular disease but also various mental health disorders.
Prevalence of panic attacks in Europe is close to 3% of the total population, and in the US, for example, it is as high as 6-11%. Primary seizures usually occur from adolescence to early adulthood and are almost twice as common in women as in men. Some people may develop fear of crowded public places or closed and narrow areas.
The frequency of panic attacks varies quite a bit and can only occur a few times a year, up to an extreme few times a day. Not everyone who experiences such a momentum develops panic disorder, and this may be a one-time event.
How to Behave During Panic Attack?
When you first have a panic attack, it’s usually an all-encompassing feeling that you probably can’t control. However, as stated above, this is a transient phenomenon. However, it is worth learning from this case to be ready for possible new incidents just in case. Firstly, when panic attack occurs for the first time, consult your doctor to rule out serious illnesses, the symptoms of which panic attacks may overlap.
If the panic attack happens, for example, while driving, ensure your safety and the safety of others! Luckily, certain methods may help alleviate or prevent the onset of panic attacks.
1. Breathing exercises
Deep breathing helps relieve stress but also relieves the duration and strength of the panic attack. Breathing exercises are a common and easy method that you should practice and try.
Deep breathing uses the diaphragm, which is why it is also called abdominal breathing because it mainly moves the abdomen area. Breast breathing, where the chest and shoulders rise mainly, on the other hand, is more associated with shallow breathing and shortness of breath, further boosting panic attack.
Abdominal breathing has an emphasis on controlling breathing, which is why you focus on a given activity that calms your thinking and relaxes your body.
- If possible, lie down, put your hand on your stomach and watch it fall and rise as you inhale and exhale.
- When you inhale, say “one” and when you exhale, “relax”.
- Do it as calmly as possible until ten, and then start over.
- Focus on breathing and words.
This is definitely very difficult to do at first, but by practicing beforehand, you are preparing for an unexpected situation, already knowing what to do.
2. Muscle relaxation exercises
Muscle relaxation exercises are a popular method because the body responds to anxiety in the form of muscle tension, and by focusing on simple physical exercises, you are able to focus your thoughts on a specific activity, thus reducing the anxious mood.
- Find a quiet place to do the exercises and tighten the different muscles – for example, from the fingers to the toes.
- There are various exercises and techniques such as foam rolling but the easiest way is to tighten a particular muscle for a few seconds and then relax it for ten seconds, focusing on the tension drop.
- Practice this routine a few times beforehand, then you will be able to help yourself more easily if necessary.
Cultivating meditation helps you be more connected to yourself, gaining a better understanding of panic disorder and its connections to you. Meditation and mindfulness are methods that help to relieve daily stress, but are also helpful in anxious moments. These techniques teach you to be an observer of yourself, thus becoming more aware of your own inner world and the environment around you.
By applying meditation during the panic attack, we are able to accept the situation more easily and better understand what has happened to us.
- An easy way is to be in a sitting position, close your eyes, lower your head and use the deep breathing technique described above.
- The key word is to focus on breathing and not pay attention to the thoughts that arise.
- Try not to suppress your thoughts, and if the thread of thought is going to wander, try not to get angry and return to your breathing rhythm.
- Do this for a few minutes, and then open your eyes and look around calmly, realizing that you are in control of the situation.
Natural Remedies to Prevent and Reduce Panic Attacks and Anxiety – Lifestyle Changes and 16 Dietary Supplements for Panic Attacks
If panic attacks have already occurred several times, you should think about what you can do to reduce the incidence and duration of these attacks. Consult your doctor, get treatment as soon as possible and stick with your treatment plan. This way you help stop panic attacks from getting worse or becoming more frequent.
There’s no sure way to prevent panic attacks or panic disorder. However, these suggestions below are the general keywords that help protect against anxiety, be successful in every aspect of life, and may also help if combined with conventional treatment.
- Cultivate a healthy lifestyle. Try to reduce or even avoid smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, as well as overworking
- Optimal sleep duration
- Regular physical activity
- Try aromatherapy
- Balanced diet
- Find time for yourself and your hobbies. This avoids the build-up of stress
- Practice deep breathing
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Natural Remedies and Supplements for Panic Attacks and Anxiety
Currently, researches on the relatedness between vitamin deficiencies and panic attacks are limited. However, because panic attacks are often a symptom of an anxiety disorder called panic disorder, combining some supplements into your diet, especially when mixed with practices like meditation, talk therapy, building a strong social support system, and prescription medications (if needed), may help you better control anxiety that can trigger panic attacks.
It’s a well-known scientific fact that what you eat can dramatically impact your mood (11). Nutritional deficiencies can worsen mental health disorders, while a nutritionally complete diet can help alleviate symptoms.
Therefore, taking the right supplements and vitamins for anxiety can also address the three most significant biological factors that contribute to anxiety and panic attacks: serotonin deficiency, low vitamin B6 levels and low iron levels (11).
Kava seemed to be a propitious remedy for anxiety, but some reports of liver damage, even if used in short time, caused the Food and Drug Administration to issue warnings about the consumption of supplements containing kava. So, until this topic is totally clear, and the safety of kava is proven, use it with extreme caution and include your doctor in the decision making process if you’re considering using supplements containing kava (3).
2. B Vitamins
B vitamins are necessary for the function of the nervous system, brain and cardiovascular system. Even a minimal vitamin B deficiency interferes with brain activity, affects thinking, attention, energy, cognition, concentration and emotions. Therefore, they may also have a major effect on anxiety symptoms such as stress management and mood (2, 5). Read more about The Health Benefits of B Vitamins and about the Top B Vitamins Rich Foods.
One study found that patients undergoing panic attack (PA) or a hyperventilation attack (HVA), had significantly lower B6 and iron levels. These findings suggest that iron together with B vitamins may be helpful in preventing panic attacks (5, 10). Read more about Iron Deficiency Anemia.
4. Passion flower
A few small clinical trials propose that passion flowers might help with anxiety, better sleep quality, boost positive moods, and reduce nervousness. However, some studies initiate that it may also cause dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion (2, 3).
Valerian root is known as a sleep aid, which can also be calming and helpful for lessening anxiety. However, in some studies people reported no benefit. In general, it is considered safe to use at recommended doses, but don’t take it for more than a few weeks at a time, unless your doctor agrees. It can cause some side effects such as headaches, dizziness and drowsiness (2, 3).
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These acids which formulate the primary building blocks of the brain and nervous system are vital for cognitive functioning. Therefore, it is only obvious that omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with improving depression symptoms. Depression on the other hand is often closely associated with anxiety disorders (2, 6).
According to limited data, short-term use of chamomile is safe and can be successful in alleviating symptoms of anxiety. However, when used together with blood-thinning medicines, it may raise the risk of bleeding. In some people, chamomile may also cause allergic reactions (3).
8. Lemon balm
Preliminary research suggests that lemon balm may decrease some anxiety symptoms, such as excitability and nervousness. Lemon balm is usually considered safe for short-term use. However, it may cause abdominal pain and nausea (3).
Research suggests that in addition to relieving gastrointestinal problems, probiotics may also have an affect on mental health by improving your body’s ability to cope with stress and better overall mental health (2, 7). Read more about the Top Probiotic Rich Foods and about the 40 Health Benefits of Probiotics.
It is an amino acid (Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)) and neurotransmitter found in the brain that is vital to serotonin creation. As serotonin is one of the well known good feeling boosters, GABA may play a notable part in relaxation and mood regulation (2).
11. Licorice Root
This herb affects adrenal glands which produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Licorice root helps adjust the production of these hormones, and may therefore reduce anxiety symptoms. It can also relieve gastrointestinal upset, which is frequent in many people with anxiety (2).
Ashwagandha has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce anxiety, balance stress levels, fight the effects of aging, and boost energy (2). Read more about the proven health benefits of Ashwagandha.
Like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola also has a long history of medicinal uses in traditional medicine (Chinese and Siberian), and it is believed to be an adaptogen. Therefore, it may better mental and physical health, enhance mood and fight stress (2).
Some preliminary and limited evidence propose that aromatherapy or oral lavender may alleviate anxiety. However, oral lavender may cause low blood pressure, headaches, constipation, boost appetite, and increase the sedative effect of other supplements and medications (3).
Awareness, anxiety, confusion, memory disorder, depression, and sometimes even visual hallucinations are often the signs of magnesium deficiency and may improve by taking a supplement of this mineral. Read more about The Magnesium Health Benefits and Magnesium Rich Foods.
However, while some vitamins and supplements may relieve anxiety, and therefore also panic attacks, it’s vital to consult with your doctor before taking them.
If you combine healthy lifestyle with medical treatment, the likelihood of recovery is significantly higher. In conclusion, mental health is a human right and a key resource, and decisive steps must be taken to promote it.
NB! The information provided here is for informational purposes only, so do not consider it as health care or medical diagnosis and treatment. Do not consider this information as a guarantee of the results you want to achieve. In addition, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional.
Even more, you should not use it to diagnose or treat a health problem. Before changing or discontinuing your existing medication, treatment, or care, or taking any dietary supplements, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional or doctor before starting any diet or program, or if you suspect you may have a medical condition.
Compiled by Maria-Helena Loik
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