Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, headache.. symptoms of a potential heart attack? Possibly. But these are also symptoms of a panic attack which can feel very much like a heart attack and just as scary.
Panic attacks can happen at any time and in any place, even when you are sleeping. Many people have just one panic attack in their lifetime, yet others may experience recurring episodes. If recurrent, they are usually triggered by something that caused an earlier panic attack such as being in an elevator that got stuck. Most panic attacks stem from a situation in which you feel you are unsafe and trapped.
Panic attacks can occur randomly in people who do not have any other signs of an anxiety disorder and yet for some they are a symptom of a disorder such as panic disorder, social phobia, anxiety disorder or depression. The good news is there are many strategies one can use to help with the symptoms of a panic attack.
Control your breathing. Oftentimes during a panic attack people start to hyperventilate. Learning to take deep breaths by using self-talk and lots of practice can help.
Practice relaxation techniques. Try progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then releasing sections of your body one at a time) or mentally picturing a relaxing scene from your past such as lying on a beach.
Learn about Panic and Anxiety. The more informed you are about what is happening to you the more you might be able to reduce your symptoms. Knowing that what you are experiencing is part of the fight-flight response to real or perceived danger can help you realize you are not going crazy or having a heart attack. Instead, your body is having normal reaction to your fear.
There are some specific types of therapeutic treatments used such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy that are quite effective. If you find you are unable to handle your panic on your own it is worthwhile to seek out additional assistance.