Hollywood actor Kristen Stewart recently made a startling revelation in an interview, when she said that her sudden promotion to the ‘A-list’, following her casting in the hit Twilight film series, resulted in acute stress for her. She started getting severe panic attacks, and “used to puke every day”.
Actors, who find the media’s constant attention and public scrutiny stressful, aren’t the only ones who suffer from panic attacks. And these aren’t the only reasons that lead to this condition. “A panic attack is a sudden period of intense fear or apprehension that may last for minutes or hours. Panic attacks are caused by a range of biological abnormalities in the brain structure and function,” says psychiatrist Sameer Gore, adding, “One more theory is that they arise from an unsuccessful attempt at defending yourself from anxiety-provoking impulses.”
Clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany explains that a panic attack can also be a result of heightened anxiety. “Stress plays a prominent role in the development of a panic disorder. High stress levels can cause a person’s already overactive nervous system to misfire,” she adds.
Age no bar
Panic disorders commonly develop in young adulthood. The average age for panic attacks is 25. It has also been concluded that women are two to three times more affected by this condition than men. “Panic attacks can occur in children as well. In young people, it may be even more distressing because kids tend to have less insight about what is happening, and parents are also likely to get stressed when such attacks occur,” says clinical psychologist Rajvi Sheth.
Read the signs
It is important to understand the symptoms of a panic attack, so that proper and timely care can be taken to control it. The signs develop abruptly, and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour. The major psychological symptoms are extreme fear and a sense of impending doom or death. The physical symptoms include shortness of breath or hyperventilation, palpitations, discomfort in the chest, trembling, sweating, hot or cold flashes, developing nausea or an upset stomach, and feeling choked, dizzy, light-headed, numb, tingling sensations or unreal and detached from your surroundings, etc.
Handling it right
Dr Sheth says panic attacks can usually be treated with self-help strategies or a series of therapy sessions. There are several things one can keep in mind in such situations. “Simply knowing more about panicking can go a long way in relieving your stress. Read up on anxiety disorders, and the fight-or-flight response experienced during a panic attack,” she says. Deep breathing can also relieve the symptoms of such attacks. “By learning to control your breathing, you develop a coping mechanism that you can use to calm yourself when you begin to feel anxious,” she adds.
Stay mentally and physically fit. Take time out to practise yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or pick up relaxation techniques
Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Keep some healthy, energy-boosting snacks with you at all times
Get enough sleep
Maintain a positive attitude
Learn what triggers your anxiety or stress, and deal with those triggers
Talk to someone about your issues.
Avoid during a panic attack
Alcohol and drug abuse
Excessive nicotine or caffeine intake
Freaking out over the episode
—With inputs from Parul Tank, psychiatrist.