There was a short segment of anxiety tips on the morning news 2 days ago. I was at the gym on a treadmill at the time and saw the headline “When Panic Attacks” on one of the huge flat screen TVs. I couldn’t hear it but could read along with he anxiety tips. When I got home I watched it a few times on the internet and took notes.
Here is a link to the anxiety tips segment on the show, and here is my paraphrasing the interview:
It’s estimated that at least 20% of American adults will suffer from a panic attack at some point in their lives. So how do you know if you’re having one and what are the triggers?
Introduced is Dr. Keri Peterson (seated right) who is an internist and contributor to Women’s Health Magazine.
Commentator: What is a panic attack?
Dr. Peterson: A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear. And it comes without warning and it comes without any apparent reason. When it happens you get these severe physical reactions. So they can be so frightening that some people may even thing that they’re having a heart attack or that they’re even dying.
Some people may only have one or two in their lifetime, but some people may have multiple attacks and they may have a tremendous fear of having another attack. That fear triggers the panic attack in itself. When people have that it’s called panic disorder, which is a more extreme condition.
Panic disorder can be very disabling, it can really interfere with your everyday activities, but it can be treated effectively, and so can panic attacks.
Commentator: Before we get to the symptoms you say its often hard to pinpoint what actually causes or triggers them but what are some of the things that might lead you down that path?
Dr. Peterson: Well what we do know is that they can be triggered by highly stressful events like the loss of a family member or the loss of a job. We don’t know why these stressful events actually trigger an attack in some people and not in others. but we do know that they run in families, they are genetic and that may be due to some faulty neural wiring. Because what brain scans have shown is that there’s an excess release of stress hormones similar to what you would see in a fight or flight reaction.
Commentator: Some of the symptoms can mimic a heart attack, from chest pain, rapid heart rates, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, a sense of impending doom or death
So how do you know you’re just dealing with a panic attack vs. something more serious?
Dr. Peterson: well I think the first time around you won’t know which is why it’s so important to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. they’ll be able to do the proper tests to see if it is something related to your heart.
But if you’ve experienced it before, then that knowledge is empowering, and you’ll know going forward what you are experiencing.
Commentator: And of course how you respond to that panic attack when you start to feel one coming on is so important as well because you don’t want to make the situation even worse or become uncontrollable in your response.
So what should you do?
Anxiety tip #1. Realize that panic attacks are not life threatening. While they feel very uncomfortable they are not posing a threat to your health, they are not dangerous.
Anxiety tip #2. When they happen, the next thing you should do is sight tight. Don’t try to resist the attack. Embrace it, acknowledge it, know that it’s only going to last about 20 to 30 minutes maximum. so rather than freaking out and fighting it, just tell yourself “this is going to pass” and just do some deep breathing instead.
Anxiety Tip #3. What you could do during the attack is distract yourself. Do something that’s comforting to you. Be it watching TV, or calling a friend or a family member. Something that you can control because you feel so out of control during the attacks.
Anxiety Tip #4. As a last resort, go to the Emergency Room if you’re really still not sure what’s going on and you feel like something’s terribly wrong. Go to the ER- the doctor can assess you, they can determine if this is a panic attack or not and that can be very reassuring.
Anxiety tip #5. Avoid panic attacks going forward. After you’ve had your first attack going forward it’s critical to try to manage your time. So when you have one, get back to your normal life as quickly as possible. It may take a few days because you’re anxious that this happened. If you notice that you’re anxious more than 1 to 2 days then you should really see a doctor instead.
Then they talk about effective prescription drugs like Xanax and benzodiazepines. Very effective for aborting panic attack symptoms but should be used with caution and monitored by a doctor.
I think this news story was pretty good. It would be helpful to someone who has had a few panic attacks and is still in the shock and bedevilment phase. But if you’re like me and looking for breaking news or new research in the field of anxiety, there wasn’t any in this story.
I thought the distraction tip was a little off. I have never been able to watch TV or call someone during a panic attack (have you?) Of course learning to breathe properly is important. She might have explained that a little better.
And the tip about going to the Emergency Room might not have been too helpful either. Dr. Peterson encourages panic attack sufferers first and foremost to get checked out by their doctor. Then she says go tho the Emergency Room if you really feel something’s terribly wrong. So go to the doctor, get checked, get reassurance and then go to the ER? (you gotta hand it to Western medicine, all roads lead to the doctor, lol)
I think it would have been more helpful if she recommended a great resource book like Hope and Help for Your Nerves, talked about specific action tips, or focused on stress management in your lifestyle.
If I was the teacher I’d give Dr. Peterson a B. Some of the information was good, and it’s helpful to spread awareness, but did we learn anything new here? Not really.
It was not terrible, but nothing spectacular either. I think talking about the dangers of anxiety medication, while important, may not be particularly helpful to a person who is desperate and who just had their first panic attack.
What do you think of Dr. Peterson’s anxiety tips?
I wish you peace,