One day I felt as though my heart was going to beat out of its chest. I felt weak and light-headed. I was having an out of body experience, and this intense, very real fear that something was tremendously wrong. I thought I was going to die.
I would up in the hospital, and it wasn’t long before I found out my diagnosis: I was suffering from panic disorder.
Panic Disorder and Health Fear
At first I couldn’t believe it. Panic disorder is a mental health problem, not a physical health problem. I was sure they were wrong, and that there was something seriously wrong with me. But over time I was able to realize that it was a mental health disorder, and in many ways that made me lucky, because I was able to work through the disorder and regain my good health.
For those with panic disorder and chronic health problems, however, treating panic disorder can be much more difficult. Panic disorders are often triggered by sensations in your body. Many of these sensations may be relatively harmless (like feeling a little light headed when you stand up after sitting for too long), but they are real sensations nonetheless. Over time I learned how to avoid fear with these sensations and control my panic attacks.
But when you suffer from chronic health problems, it can become a bit more complicated. You do need to pay attention to your body, because while you may be on the road to recovery or health management, a few setbacks now and then are common. The easier a time you have identifying these setbacks, the better control you’ll be able to maintain over your health.
Yet since panic attacks are often triggered by “over-sensitization” (paying too much attention to your own health, you create a problem: You can learn to ignore potential warning signs of a setback, or you can suffer from more panic attacks but be aware of what you’re feeling. Neither of these is a great option.
Controlling the Panic During Chronic Illness
Seeing a counselor is always valuable. Many have expertise in teaching those with chronic illness how to control panic without ignoring warning signs that you need to address. But until then, consider the following methods of learning to deal with panic disorder during chronic illness:
• Create Your Own Panic Disorder – Panic disorder has triggers. You may experience panic disorder when you’re in certain places, or when you feel light headed, etc. Triggering your own panic disorder on purpose can help you learn to tell the difference between when you’re suffering from a panic attack and when you’re suffering from something more worrisome.
• Have Someone to Call – Knowing that someone is on the line with you can be a valuable tool for combating panic disorder while you suffer from chronic illness. With someone on the phone with you, you’ll know that if something is seriously wrong, you’ll have someone that can call the doctor for you and follow up. Then, if nothing is seriously wrong, you’ll have someone to talk to and calm down after your panic attack. Both of these can be valuable, so if someone you know is able to answer your calls and will understand where you’re coming from, you’ll find some relief throughout the process.
• Relaxation Exercises – Relaxation exercises can be a powerful tool for reducing the severity of your panic attack. The less severe your panic attack, the easier a time you’ll have telling the difference between the anxiety disorder and something more serious. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two of the better methods of relaxing, during and before a panic attack.
• Surround Yourself with Caring People – Knowing that people are there for you can also be hugely beneficial for treating panic attacks. Spend more time with family, go to church, and find ways to really reach out to others. Panic disorder can be exacerbated when you feel alone, and reaching out to others can help you control that panic without affecting your ability to pay attention to possible recovery setbacks.
These are only the first steps. You will still need to learn the difference between a panic attack and chronic illness setbacks. But these will be a big help, and all of them can help you reduce the severity of your panic attacks without affecting your ability to pay attention to your body. Panic attacks can be difficult when you also live with chronic illness, but if you learn to manage them both, you’ll find that your quality of life is vastly improved.
Ryan Rivera went through several ineffective panic attack treatments before finding relief, and understands how much panic attacks can affect how you feel about your health. He writes about anxiety and depression at http://www.calmclinic.com/.
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