It’s a beautiful, sunny day here in Florida. It is my second day alone and I am looking forward to running some errands, reading a book and maybe sneaking a walk in the park. My first errand involves going to the local Publix supermarket to get some solid food (food poisoning during the weekend, today is my first normal day in a while). I sit back in my car, play some 80s music and turn the corner to leave my complex.
That is when I notice it. For some reason, my heart is pounding so loud I feel I can hear it outside of my chest. It is, without a doubt, the scariest moment since I recovered from my ailment this weekend. I don’t understand! Two minutes ago I was happy to be going out and now, I don’t think I am going to make it to the store less than a mile away.
I have learned to stop myself and start breathing. I actually count how many seconds I breath in (5) and how many I breathe out (10). Breath in – breath out. Again. Slow that heart rate down a little. Make it to the parking lot. Take another deep breath.
Ten minutes later, as I load on no good for me cereal, a water bottle, some granola bars and other pertinent snacks, I almost forgot the horrible sensation I had minutes before that the world was coming to an end, well, at least, my world.
What you just read is my description of my panic attack. You don’t know when they are coming, how long they will last, and it always ends the same way. I, for one, cannot understand why minutes before I thought I was going to die when I am almost skipping down the aisles of the supermarket.
Business people rarely speak about panic attacks, or any other mental health issues. There is such a ridiculous stigma associated with the disease. Recent studies put the number of sufferers of panic disorders at 6 million. When you consider that the US has a population of 224 million, it is easy to see why we don’t talk about them. It is less than 3% of the population. It is my suspicion that the number is severely incorrect. I, for one, usually don’t make it a habit to tell people I have them. I also don’t take medications for depression or anxiety, because I think they are crap. That does not mean you might not be helped by them. I have discovered through years of experience, that I tend to develop secondary effects that are usually the realm of 5% of the population (which is why sometimes even doctors have a hard time believing me). To give you an example, I am the rare bird that only develops the flu when given the flu shot. Since I tend to have such horrible reactions to normal medications, I have to look at other methods to heal myself.
The reason why I want to talk about panic attacks is because to me this is important. This is not a sexy topic and people might think you are weird. If you suffer a panic attack, I want you to know that you are not alone, there is nothing wrong with you, and if you are female, you happen to be more likely to get a panic attack.
Even more surprising, middle age seems to be a magnet for it. I remember a mental health expert once telling us in a chat that there is a long-standing theory that when we get to our late 40s and 50s, we look back and realize the best years of our lives are over and we did not do what we set out to do. That is when the panic sets in.
If you look at the information from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), the evidence is clear. Almost 60% of the people who suffer panic attacks are between the ages of 35 and 60, with the highest numbers pertaining to those of us between 45 and 59. They also cite being female as a risk factor. I have my own theories of why that is but I don’t want to get into a debate about feminism on this particular post. According to Psychology Today the female to male ratio is 72% female. Let that sink in for a minute. Women are three times more likely to get panic attacks than men.
So what can we do about this? How can we help a friend experiencing this? Is there any hope? The first thing I want to repeat is that if you are suffering from panic attacks, you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. It is time we stop talking about mental health issues as if we were broken in some way. You can be the strongest person or the weakest one and still have a panic attack. If you notice a friend or yourself experiencing this particular issue, counseling can help. Most insurance cover these expenses and if you work for a corporation, many of them have excellent services.
The last thing I want to talk about is the issue of hope. Many people think that they might be crazy, on their way to a facility without any hope of recovering. It is interesting to note that most people experiencing panic disorders can see relief in 12 months. There are many treatment options available. If you are like me and don’t like medications, tell your doctor. There are other ways to deal with it and she should be well-informed and capable of providing you other options available.
As for me, breathing exercises always work. I happen to recognize the symptoms and lucky for me, they don’t happen very often. In fact, the last panic attack I had, happened about 3 or 4 years ago. I have a routine I follow to recover and I take very good care of my mind. I want to repeat again, do what works for you and don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You will get better.
If you have any other suggestions or tips on how you deal with panic attacks constructively, leave your comment below and share this article with others who might experience this. I am not a doctor. I am an expert on me. I know what works for me. Make sure you get the help you need and get ready to thrive once more.