Question for Betty.

Lately I have been over-stressed with work and family illness.  I get into almost a "panic" attack, feel short of breath and boxed in.  My heart starts to race and it is pretty scary.  What can I do to try and deal with this when it happens?  Also, does this kind of thing happen for an extended period of time?

Betty's Answer.

It sounds like you are indeed having panic attacks.  The good news is that you are not going to die and the panic attacks can be controlled. Panic attacks can happen out of nowhere, causing sudden intense discomfort or fear.  They begin abruptly, usually reach their worst within ten minutes, and are accompanied by feelings of danger, death or desire to escape.

Usually panic attacks have a handful of the following:

  • pounding heart or rapid heart rate
  •  sweating, trembling or shaking
  • difficulty breathing or sensations of smothering
  •  feelings of choking
  •  chest pain or discomfort
  •  nausea or abdominal distress/cramping
  •  feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  •  fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations, especially in fingers and toes
  • chills or hot flashes

Fortunately, panic attacks can be dealt with successfully.  If the symptoms occur, find a quiet room to relax in and slow down your breathing, as you may be hyperventilating. Be aware of and reduce your caffeine intake, which may intensify feelings of anxiety.

Next, make an appointment as soon as possible with your health care provider or with the Student Health and Counseling Center to help rule out any organic cause for the symptoms, and to help you develop strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety in your life. Congratulations on taking the first step, identifying that you have a problem. Help is on the way, as soon as you make an appointment.