The following is a guest blog post from Marianne Drevna BS, LRCP, Breathe PA’s clinical director. She has been a practicing respiratory therapist for over 30 years in the Pittsburgh area.

The more I talk to people with lung disease, the more I hear them ask for advice on handling panic attacks, so I thought this would be a good time to address a very prevalent, and sometimes paralyzing affliction. I suffered from panic attacks for 10 years before seeking treatment – There were days that I was afraid to even leave the house and days when I went to the ER because I was sure I was going to die.

In some cases, the attacks are brought on by receiving a medical diagnosis that tips one’s coping mechanism over the edge. In the case of those with lung disease, they can be caused by a lack of oxygen and shortness of breath.

What are panic attacks like? They can exhibit all the signs of a heart attack, such as tightness in the chest, sweating, racing heartbeat and a feeling of impending doom. They can make you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin. They make you feel like something really bad is happening to your body, but you just don’t know what. They can make you want to flee or throw some cold water on your face to try and get control over what is happening. The point is to seek help from a doctor before you become hesitant to go anywhere because you’re afraid you’ll suffer a panic attack.

Why do panic attacks happen? In most cases they are caused by a buildup of stress, plain and simple. In other cases they can be caused by medication you are taking or thyroid problems.

To try and help you, here are some things you can try, along with seeking guidance from your doctor:

  • Deep Breathing – Try to relax. Remind yourself that you’ll be okay and the feeling will pass.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and sugar – Caffeine and nicotine raise blood pressure, and sugar can hype you up.
  • Meditate – It’s good for the body and soul.
  • Unplug – Turn off the TV, computer, video games and other electronic devices. All that stimulation takes its toll on your body and mind.
  • Exercise – It’s a great stress buster.
  • Sleep more – This is always great advice!

Remember, don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through – You’ll be surprised how many others are experiencing the same things. Good luck girls! Stay cool and calm!