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Ever felt suddenly overwhelmed by fear in an ordinary, everyday situation? Does the pulse quicken and the sweat start to flow for no apparent reason? If so chances are that you're the victim of a panic attack. The Stirrer's resident psychologist Dr Mike Drayton discusses the symptons - and a possible cure...

A 45 year old man lies on his bathroom floor gasping for breath. His heart is racing out of control and he is drenched in sweat. He cries out and minutes after his wife finds him she's rushing him in the car through the streets of Birmingham with terrifying images flashing through his mind of heart monitors, intravenous tubes and defibrillators.

Two hours later he'sback home. All the tests and examinations at the hospital had revealed.nothing.The junior doctor at A&E said, somewhat dismissively, that he had probably just had a panic attack.

Yet the man himself was convinced something serious was wrong and that the over-burdened staff in casualtyhad missed the real problem.

Amonth later, he was shopping at Tesco's with his wife and it started to happen again. His heart started to race and he felt he couldn't breathe. He went cold and clammy. He had to get out of the building and he felt an urge to run, to get away as fast as he could…

An ambulance was called and he sat on a chair and wated in a state of terror. The ambulance took about fifteen minutes to arrive and by then his symptoms had started to subside. At the hospital it was the same story - nothing wrong, only a panic attack.

Do you think that this man must be a bit weird or neurotic? Not at all, he is in fact a teacher at a pleasant Birmingham comprehensive school. He is well liked and respected by his colleagues and pupils.

He has,however, just started to suffer from a very common problem- panic attacks.

Panic attacks often happen to people who are experiencing stress.

They are triggered by a frightening thought or worry. This can cause a ‘fight or flight' response.

This is the body's reaction to threat, and gets you ready to either fight the threat or run away.

Your heart will start beating fast, to get blood to your muscles, your breathing will become rapid, to get oxygen into your bloodstream.Worst of all you will tense up and feel a compulsion to escape.

This response is great and very useful if you are experiencing a real threat. If you are confronted by a mugger, you will need all the help you can to get away.

But what if the threat isn't real and is just a frightening thought or worry?

Or what if you're in a situation like a meeting at work, where you experience a panic attack but can't run away.

Sometimes the body can't distinguish between a real threat and one that is in the mind. If this happens your thoughts and feelings get locked into a vicious circle that feed each other.

"I feel terrible, something must be badly wrong" you think. This makes you even more panicky and the symptoms get worse.

"Oh God, they're getting worse, I'm going to die", and so on.

So, how do you stop a panic attack? Easy. You have to get control of your breathing and thinking.

It is very hard to panic if your breathing is slow and deep. Try this technique called ‘square breathing'.

First, breathe in as slowly and deeply as you can.

Second, hold your breath for about three seconds.

Thirdly exhale through your nose as slowly as you possibly can.

Finally, pause for a second…

And repeat the above three times.

Next, get control of you negative panicky thoughts. Try to visualise an image or picture of a place where you feel happy and secure. It might be somewhere you've been on holiday or just your bedroom at home.

Whats important is that you try and see a picture of the place.

This simple technique will beat most panic attacks.

Dr Mike Drayton


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