It started like this: I had a mild feeling of pressure in my chest, but I tried to ignore it. The pressure in my chest became greater and greater until I felt I had to stop and take stock of my breathing. My breathing became faster and shallower. I decided to take my pulse, which didn’t help because I could swear my heart was skipping a beat. With shortness of breath and now pain in my chest my heart skipped to the beat of my sense of impending doom. I imagined myself sprawled out on a hospital gurney with faceless medical staff attempting to save my life. As this horrifying scene was flooding my imagination, my hands became numb and tingly, and the pain in my chest radiated across my back. Shortly after paramedics were called. In this instance, the rational brain with all evidence that one is physically unharmed is in conflict with the emotional brain, which asks, ‘if all is well, then why do I feel like I’m going to die?’ Panic crashes our sense of physical well-being like a tsunami wave of emotion drowning in desperation to catch your breath.
After the fact, I was assessed in the emergency department and released to go home. The question became ‘now what’? Breathing exercises? Meditation? “Thank G-D it was just a panic attack!” I was told by family and friends, but I didn’t feel ‘lucky.’ The realization that I was not in that moment in perfect control of my physical and mental faculties was frightening enough, so I went to talk to my family doctor and then I made an appointment with a therapist. Talking to my therapist allowed me the space to say out loud how embarrassed I was, how upset I felt and how frightened I was of it happening again. After a few sessions of discussing what may have led to this event, I even felt a little better.
Anxiety, stress, and yes, even panic attacks…they happen. Now, what to do about it? There are many things that might work depending on the severity and length of time panic attacks take place. Finding the right combination could include psychotherapy, medication, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture or meditation. Finding the right fit takes time and a couple of appointments with more than one health care practitioner. The first step is to tell someone you trust and ask for help.
Talia Singer, PhD RN RP is a psychiatric nurse, art therapist and registered psychotherapist working at Acutoronto Wellness Clinic. She is an approved Blue Cross mental health care provider. Contact Acutoronto to book an appointment today at (416) 486-5222.
Lipsitz, J. D., Gur, M., Miller, N. L., Forand, N., Vermes, D., & Fyer, A. J. (2006). An open pilot study of interpersonal psychotherapy for panic disorder (IPT-PD). The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(6), 440-445.
Milrod, B., Leon, A. C., Busch, F., Rudden, M., Schwalberg, M., Clarkin, J., … & Graf, E. (2007). A randomized controlled clinical trial of psychoanalytic psychotherapy for panic disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(2), 265-272. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.59.12.1098