At the very start of my menopause journey, I remember one particular day when I was sat in my room…
…and was suddenly hit by this feeling of sheer and utter panic that spread like wildfire through my body. I couldn’t think straight and the blood seemed to go completely cold in my veins. Had someone broken in? Had I received some awful news? No. All I was trying to do was pack for a flight.
I had booked a three-week trip to LA four months earlier and instead of really looking forward to it, I was completely overwhelmed by the prospect. In fact, just about everything seemed to overwhelm me! Even little things that I’d never given a second thought to, like choosing what to wear, going to the shops or going out for lunch with friends would throw me into such a state of panic and anxiety that my palms would sweat, my joints would go stiff and I would even dry retch.
That might sound like a natural reaction to something truly terrifying but in reality, the feelings I was experiencing were not proportionate to the situation. I’ve since spoken to a few girlfriends of mine who have had the same experiences especially with flying. Some of them have flown all their lives with no fear whatsoever and they’ve said that they have had similar feelings of sudden panic.
What causes Panic Disorders
Put very simply, panic attacks and panic disorders are very intense and (relatively) brief bouts of anxiety. Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone can cause anxiety. Note: having a panic attack does not mean you have a panic disorder. Panic disorders are characterised by frequent panic attacks. Your likelihood of having a panic disorder is often linked to your family history with anxiety and how sensitive you are to fluctuating hormones (think of how your period or childbirth has affected your anxiety levels over time).
My Top Tips
At the start of an attack, try your best to count to three and breathe. When your thoughts are racing, and your heart is beating at a hundred and ten beats a minute, you need to find the power to pause and breathe. By slowing your breath, you’ll slow your heart rate and be able to see your thoughts more clearly. Continue doing breathing exercises even outside of your panic attacks.
Listen to your thoughts.
Once you’ve allowed yourself to breathe, you need to listen to your thoughts. Are they facts, or just worries based on fear? Separate fact from fiction, consider what you’re worried about. Taking control back of your thoughts will allow you to not be consumed by them.
Find your stress triggers.
When do you get panic attacks? What raises your anxiety? One of the most important ways to treat your panic disorder or your panic attacks is to understand what your triggers are. The more you understand what scares you and what makes you uncomfortable, the better you can tackle the root of your panic attacks.
Avoid alcohol and smoking.
Even though smoking and alcohol might make you calm down and relax in the short run, in the long run it makes your panic attacks much worse.
Ultimately, panic disorders may require medical attention. You may want to consider therapy, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to identify and change your negative thoughts that are causing your panic attacks. Understandably, this may seem like a big step, but panic disorders are a chronic problem that need your attention.