Panic attacks are no joke. Maybe you’ve suffered from one. Maybe you’ve had an anxiety attack. A sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety and physical symptoms because of a threat rather than imminent danger.
Sam suffered a panic attack.
Did you know that panic attacks can strike at any moment? For Sam, it came while working at his desk in his office.
I received a text message saying, “My whole body is shaking. Something’s not right.”
And then I started to worry…
Was there anything threatening at Sam’s desk? No.
Did someone do or say something that triggered Sam’s anxiety? Nope.
A sudden period of shaking overcame him.
Other symptoms of panic attacks can include sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something very bad can happen. These symptoms can occur within minutes.
Why did this panic attack happen?
It is quite possible that it is related to Sam having PTSD. He also has a lot of anxiety and stress on the daily with his job.
I finally called Sam. He stepped out of his office to get some fresh air and a snack. He wasn’t sure if his blood sugar was low, his blood pressure was high, or if this was indeed a panic attack. His whole body was shaking–hands, arms, legs, feet…and he just felt off. Thankfully, after we spoke he was able to go back to work and talk to a nurse.
Trembling and sweating are two key signs for Sam. This was so sudden, and somewhat awkward because it happened at work. At his desk. With no real warning. With no trigger.
This was hard for me to process when he was talking. I immediately started to think of the various conditions with Sam’s health: PTSD, TBI, high blood pressure, intense migraines, kidney stones, liver issues, chronic back pain, and then my mind went to medication.
He didn’t take any of his medication before he left for work.
Then I remembered ALL THE STRESS Sam has been under lately.
BINGO! We have a trigger!
All of the stress and small triggers that come with working in behavior health at the VA, talking with veterans who may share a story or have a comment that brings up memories, feeling as if he has to accomplish all the things in a work day, worrying about situations beyond his control, taking graduate level courses, worrying about completing projects around the house, making time for the kids and their busy schedules, making sure family night or family movie night happens when the kids are here, random road trips, coworkers, bosses, classmates…it is easy to see why a panic attack occurred.
If I had a magic wand, I’d wave all the stress, worry, fear, anxiety, and nerves away for Sam. If I had an easy button, I’d push the hell out of it on a daily basis so the day would be a piece of cake.
I’ll be a support for Sam. I realized while he was texting me (and eventually called me), that I couldn’t be upset I wasn’t there to help or freak out. That would not be good. The stimulus in Sam’s body was taking over–the stress needed to escape. It was like his brain and body were telling him, “hey fella, you need to relax.”
The shaking was so bad that Sam was wobbly–from his fingers, hands, toes, legs, feet…he was shaking and felt as if his legs were not going to support his body.
I’ll be calm and reassuring. Knowing this could occur at any time, it is probably not a good idea for anyone to say the following:
“What happened to you?”
“Are you stressed out?”
“Don’t forget to breathe. Can you breathe?”
My mind went to all of the things Sam’s had on his plate the past few weeks…and then I realized that he was bottling some anxiety and stress.
I’ll be sure to remind him of deep breathing, blood pressure medication, and not to dwell on this.
Other tips to remember when going through the “I think I’m having a panic attack” mode (as Sam did)…
- Recognize if any physical symptoms are changing: breathing, sweating, dizziness…
- Controlling breathing…Sam has learned some breathing techniques that have helped in other situations, and it would be good to use these when he feels as if a panic attack may be coming.
- Focus on something else…for Sam, his peace of mind comes when he is at the farm…doing farm things (you know, driving a tractor, woodworking, being away from the daily life and enjoying the scenic view). Going to the farm in his mind will be a helpful tool.
- Other relaxation techniques can be helpful, too. Taking a drink of something warm (tea would be my go-to), cold (some water, perhaps?), taking a short walk, talking with your spouse or friend…these things are helpful in relaxation but also helpful in focusing on something else.
- Knowing the difference between a stressful experience and a panic attack could be helpful as well. Stressful expereinces happen to everyone at one time or another. Panic attacks are not tied to an event, are unpredictable, and even the severity of the attack could be extreme and terrifying.
- Using your sense to help battle the attack…using eyesight to notice pleasant things in your surroundings, closing your eyes and visualizing your favorite vacation spot (the beach), or your happy place (the farm), find something that makes you more relaxed.
Luckily, Sam was able to get back to work safely and have a nurse chat with him about some of the symptoms he was experiencing. We didn’t realize how important that phrase, “find a happy place” can be.
My best friend…I hate it when he is not feeling well…but am lucky we have an open line of communication to chat about those things when we can’t be together because of work.