It starts without warning. Suddenly, fear overwhelms you. Your heart begins to race; you struggle for air. You begin to sweat and tremble. The world spins as your stomach cramps, and you lean over, nauseous, horrified that you are about to faint. It feels as if death has crept up on you, violently and mercilessly. But, within a few minutes the worst has passed, and within a half an hour, you are fine. The terror is assuaged. You have had a panic attack. It may be the only one or one of many that you will experience throughout your life. At its end, you will think that the worst is over, but for your heart, the worst may have just begun.
A recent study found that women who had had a panic attack in the previous six months were more than three times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke within five years. This could be because the attack itself can damage your heart. Panic often induces blood platelet production, which increases the risk of a blood clot, and it’s possible to experience an artery spasm during the attack, which will reduce or cut off blood flow to the heart. Additionally, people who frequently experience panic attacks usually have a separate psychological condition, such as depression, which has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attack. So, it would be best if you could prevent panic attacks from happening, but since they occur without warning, is that even possible?
Theoretically, yes. Learning to relax, really relax, can help prevent the risk of having a panic attack. However, this means more than cracking open a beer after work and watching TV for a few hours. To truly experience relaxation you must intentionally create an atmosphere in which you have peace of mind. This can be achieved through meditation, muscle relaxation, relaxed breathing or guided imagery. One possible method begins with finding a comfortable place to sit or lie. Focus on your toes; then, work your way up through your legs, butt, abdominal, chest, arms and fingers until you reach the top. As you encounter tension, imagine it melting away. When you have relaxed each part of your body, go back, tightening one muscle at a time, holding it for a count of five and releasing it. Throughout the entire process, breathe deeply, slowly and naturally. In the end you will have found relaxation, and panic attacks will be less of a possibility.
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