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Painful Anxiety and Panic Attacks

TalismanTalisman Veteran
edited March 2011 in Buddhism for Beginners
About 2 years ago, I had my first panic attack while driving. I thought I was having a heart attack or something and ended up calling 911 and being transported to the hospital via ambulance. The doctor told me that my blood pressure was actually extremely low and that my heart seemed healthy and fine. He said that he thinks I am "all stomach" and gave me some antacids and sent me home.

To get into some more detail, I'll explain how the attack came on. I had been having an extremely painful toothache due to an abcess on the right side of my mouth. While I was at work, I took a couple of tylenol extra strength. For some reason, however, I havent been able to take pain killers in large amounts because it causes me to become very anxious. I have some kind of subconscious fear of overdosing and having a heart attack. A short while after taking the pills I went into the bathroom and tried to force them back up. This caused my heart to race and made me more anxious.

Because the pills werent working on the toothache, I called a local dentist and set up an emergency visit, and left work early. I went home and smoked weed with my girlfriend to try and calm down and make the pain go away. I remember that while I was at home that I felt like my head was light and I had pins and needles in the hands.

As I was driving to the dentists office I kept checking my heart rate and couldnt focus properly. As my anxiety built, there was a sudden change in sensation. The pins and needles in my hands quickly spread up the left side of my body and face. I wasnt able to grip the steering wheel and was forced to pull off the road. My heart was racing extremely fast and I was gasping for breath. This is when I called 911.

Since then I continue to have similar episodes, not nearly as intense, but still very uncomfortable. I feel like I am overanalyzing bodily sensations and misinterpreting them as symptoms of cardiac arrest or some other more serious condition. I find that smoking exhascerbates and contributes to these sensations and have quit cigarettes and green twice in the last 2 years. I also find that even without these other contributing factors, that panic symptoms occur quite frequently while driving or riding in a car.

I can't tell if these symptoms and conditions are being caused by an actual physical malady or if they are being generated by my mind. Whenever I am experiencing a very difficult attack, it is hard to meditate because I become so concerned with my breath and heartrate that I can't focus. I become worried that I am not breathing deep enough, then I'm worried that I'm hyperventelating, and I constantly check my heart rate, and if there is any kind of pain or sensation in my arms or face or ears I immediately assume it to be signs of a coming heart attack.

Does anyone have any experience or advice regarding this situation? It's causing me serious distress and keeps me from maintaining a calm and peaceful demeanor. I don't know what to do.

Comments

  • MountainsMountains Moderator
    Regardless of their ultimate cause, the physical symptoms are real. Physiologically, the tingling sensation and racing heart were probably caused by low blood pressure. When your pressure drops markedly, your heart tries to keep up by beating faster in order to maintain blood flow to your vital organs (brain, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs).

    What you're describing is a very typical panic attack. I'd recommend seeing your regular doctor (not an ER doctor) and explaining the situation. He/she should be able to help you out. As for the pain medication, unless the provider who prescribed it for you is utterly incompetent, or you are intentionally taking them incorrectly, just about anything they've given you is safe if used according to the prescribed instructions. Having anxiety about getting too much is misplaced anxiety. Pain medications are given for good reasons (usually), and again, if used correctly, they're perfectly safe.

    The constant checking of your heart rate, etc may be a sign of a compulsive disorder (possibly). Your doctor should know about this, and if necessary, you might consider seeing a counselor as well. Often they can be a huge help with this sort of thing. It may or may not require medications to help smooth things out for you. It's surely nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Let those who are trained to help with things like this do their job for you, and you should be able to overcome it.

    I wish you the very best of luck with it.

    Peace..
  • edited March 2011
    What Mountains said.

    I myself am a nurse, and I have had classic Panic Disorder for 35+ years. If you go to your regular doctor and ask the perfectly reasonable question "Could this be Panic Disorder?" you should get a perfectly reasonable answer.

    I recommend staying away from the weed if you are having panic attacks. Just makes them worse.

    (Since you had the first one in the car, you could be having panic attacks as a "conditioned" response to being in the car/driving. This is common in Panic Disorder.)
  • i think anxiety is handled by a psychiatrist, not a regular GP. the treatment, anti anxiety medication is very addictive and a whole can of worms in itself, however when you're having a panic attack, taking a zanax to calm down isn't going to hurt much, its taking it every day at higher and higher doses that can be a problem.
  • Most anxiety (and depression) is treated at the GP level, in terms of the practical reality of it. Beyond that, with most insurance, a patient must have a referral from a GP to a psychiatrist so that the insurance will pay for it. Your point about psychiatrists being better at treating anxiety (and depression) is correct in theory, but for various reasons a GP is usually seen first. Also, a GP may have other tests they want to run, or other referrals they may want to make, such as to a cardiologist, in case this does just happen to be a cardiologic problem. In matters of fact, the GP is almost always the one to see the patient first. The GP decides whether or not to call the psychiatrist in.
  • I'm not a personal advocate of the use of anti-anxiety medication except for extreme cases such as post traumatic stress syndrome or serious mental disorder. My greatest concern is for my physical well-being which I will have to discuss with my physician. Thanks for the input and advice guys.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is seen by some to be a very workable alternative, if, in fact, your physician finds for anxiety rather than something physical.
  • certainly no meds is better if you can put up with that
  • http://www.confident-woman.com.au/happy-not-hassled

    Several years ago I also suffered from debilitating panic attacks. They were dreadful things, as anyone who has ever experienced them knows. They can consume and ruin your life. It was through using the meditations on these CDs, on a regular basis, that I got through that awful time and overcame them. I have not had a panic attack since and it was such a relief to be free of them. Now I meditate regularly as I have learnt how useful it can be.
  • aMattaMatt Veteran
    Talisman,

    I agree with the others, in that getting professional help would be the best course. Also, smoking weed contributes, so not being 'green' would be a great help in overcoming this condition.

    Your doctor will be able to help with this more directly, but some general observations I've made regarding panic attacks is:

    1: Meditation is not great at treating the sensation of panic.
    2: Breathing into your hands, paper bag, or shirt for a few minutes is good at treating the sensation of panic.
    3: There is usually a chronic perception or habit that produces the stress response in the body that leads to chronic panic attacks. Clinging to ego, low self esteem, habitual fearfullness, and self-centric actions are some of the many roots.
    4: These roots are best dealt with by cognative therapy, eastern or western, including meditation practice.
    5: There are many exceptions, which makes a more complete check up from a trained professional more helpful in the long term overcoming of panic disorders than getting coping techniques from strangers.

    I hope you find peace,

    Matt
  • Hi Talisman, (and everyone else:)
    I've had panic attacks in the past too (most recently October 2009), and I quit smoking pot many years ago as a result of this. Marijuana really increases neuroses, and has a way of making people 'stuck' in their patterns and lives a bit. This isn't to generalize, some people are different, but overall, I'd say weed don't help.
    I also quit smoking cigarettes, and adopted a much healthier lifestyle. Try to find the best natural and safe ways to be healthy. Research that. The American (not sure if you are in the USA?) medical system, and the whole western medical system in general can be helpful, and essential, but sometimes I think it pays to do your research and see where wholesome and more traditional remedies and help can be found. (PS: if you're worried about your heart, just take cayenne pepper pills, and hawthorne berry extract. Read up on this, nothing is better for your heart! They are heart-miracle herbs, seriously!)
    I go jogging, and do some weights and exercise. This flushes a lot of built-up anxiety from your system. I'm not sure medically/scientifically what chemicals and enzymes and such are released, but they flush anxiety chemicals that have built up out of your system.
    Though, you can't only spend your life running to combat anxiety.
    I go see an analyst, which helps tremendously. AND I was very skeptical and scared of going at first, very guarded and anxious. But I've opened up miraculously and slowly and it really helps, believe it or not.... There are always deep roots to anxiety and sometimes feelings that the universe is unsafe, and that terrible dangerous things could happen from moment to moment. A sense of impending doom. There is seemingly always past conditioning at the root of these vast anxieties and panic. I myself began to feel extremely existential and philosophical and conceptually wondering about myself and my anxiety and the universe, and it was just so weird and overwhelming:) But I see why more now, and that is liberating. Bit by bit, brick by brick, you can dismantle this huge castle of fear, what feels impossible can be done, I promise.
    As far as meditation goes it WILL help. Really. It may take a while, and longer than you think or want, but sooner or later, it will calm you on a deep level and soften your heart and entire world view into something much more confident and filled with joy. Easy does it, go gently, ease into it, and go at your own pace. You are being very brave and that is heartening news! In a way, I thank you for you efforts, because you're inspiring me and others to open our hearts to ourselves and our experience. It really takes guts.
    Sometimes meditation won't help when you're too anxious, and maybe a walk in a calm place, or a talk with someone you trust, or listening to nice, simple, soothing music can help. Check out Kelly Howell (I'm a rocknroll kinda guy, who would normally sneer like a punk at this stuff, but it reaaaally has helped me:) It's great, check out Brain Sync.com)
    Writing here can help you too. There are some good folks with some good points of view.... just read above. If you can meet with a meditation group, that helps too.... People need people, and our inherent compassion and empathy can be very healing and helpful.
    Finally, I just want to say, the hardest thing about panic attacks for me, was that I felt SO intensely out of step with everyone, so alienated and alone, and like a freak.... like I was insane and out of touch with everyone. If you feel this way ever (I don't know if that's your experience too) know that while it is a problem and you need to look into it with seriousness and much care, you are NOT abnormal, and a panic attack is actually your mind and body working how it should..... It's a defense system. It's trying to tell you that you need to look at your mind and your life in order to sway it into the right direction, towards health. Very much like getting burnt on the stove.... pain is a warning, a fine indication of warning and a need to do what is right for your health.
    I hope this helps in some way. I know it's a long message, but I really feel your pain, and want to encourage you, because you can 100% overcome this and live without anxiety and panic attacks, and be happy and calm, and not be held back by any of it. I think many people are with you on this:)
    So, go gently, and go bravely!
    All my best wishes to you Talisman, may you know great happiness and peace!
    Tim
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    @HappyMondays, Not to nit-pick or anything but it might be easier if you put an extra space between your paragraphs, for people to read. ;)
  • And again, yes, meditate. It will help, it really will. Pick up Turning The Mind Into An Ally by Sakyong Mipham perhaps. It has really truly helped me.
    Also, caffeine? Not awesome:)
    Bye again,
    Tim
  • @HappyMondays, Not to nit-pick or anything but it might be easier if you put an extra space between your paragraphs, for people to read. ;)
    Thanks for the tip:)
  • @HappyMondays, Not to nit-pick or anything but it might be easier if you put an extra space between your paragraphs, for people to read. ;)
    Sheesh Cloud :) That's something a "heavy-handed non-moderator" like me would say.
  • thanks for the tips
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    edited March 2011
    @SherabDorje, Nah if I was being heavy-handed I'd have made it a command, not a suggestion.
    I find it personally difficult to read it when it's all smashed together like that (easy to lose your place) and assume other people do too. It's more member-ly advice.
  • I get visual migraine with dense blocks of computer text without any spaces.
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    I assumed something like that Dazz, from other posts you edit for spacing... ;)
  • About 2 years ago, I had my first panic attack while driving. ...
    There are times when what seems like anxiety is actually associated with an easily treated cardiac arrhythmia. I have known people who feel completely better after taking a small dose of medicine daily. (I'm a nurse.) Here is something I found on it:

    "Easy to Miss, Often Simple to Diagnose
    The signs of arrhythmia can be easy to miss. “It’s not unusual for somebody who has a rhythm disorder to be mislabeled as having panic attacks,” says Dr. Roth. “We have ‘healed’ some cases just by treating the abnormal rhythm — they were not panic attacks at all.”

    Still, there is a real link between arrhythmias and the emotions. Earlier this year, a study reported in Circulation (a professional magazine for cardiologists) showed that hostile men were 30 percent more likely to develop a certain atrial arrhythmia than other men. Marilyn Ezri, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin cardiologist and arrhythmia specialist, agrees stress can cause rhythm problems. Fatigue, she notes, can also signal the condition. “Doctors need to be tuned to the possibility that ‘lack of energy’ could be a rhythm problem, as opposed to just depression.”

    source: http://www.froedtert.com/HealthResources/ReadingRoom/FroedtertToday/July2004Issue/AdvancedTreatmentForHeartArrhythmia.htm
  • edited March 2011
    @Talisman

    Hi! I was in the very same boat for a while, and I did a LOT of reading. I was honestly surprised to find that a majority of panic attacks happen while driving, actually. Also, as aMatt mentioned:
    Talisman,

    Your doctor will be able to help with this more directly, but some general observations I've made regarding panic attacks is:

    1: Meditation is not great at treating the sensation of panic.
    2: Breathing into your hands, paper bag, or shirt for a few minutes is good at treating the sensation of panic.
    3: There is usually a chronic perception or habit that produces the stress response in the body that leads to chronic panic attacks. Clinging to ego, low self esteem, habitual fearfullness, and self-centric actions are some of the many roots.
    4: These roots are best dealt with by cognative therapy, eastern or western, including meditation practice.
    5: There are many exceptions, which makes a more complete check up from a trained professional more helpful in the long term overcoming of panic disorders than getting coping techniques from strangers.
    Especially #3. In my case, I had open-heart surgery a couple of years ago, and it was a very Traumatic experience for me. I constantly had the fear that I was going to die, and I experienced the tingling and numbness as you mentioned. The primary cause for this is breathing. When you start to panic you start to gasp for air and you're getting too much of it, or, you stop breathing altogether, and you get too little, which could be causing the tingling and numbness.

    I am not an advocate for medications for anxiety, as I feel they only garner dependency and over time just make things worse. Like @aMatt said, clinging to the ego is a BIG issue with anxiety; I can tell you this from experience. I'm not trying to say that you will be able to get a grip on your fear overnight; it does take a while, but hopefully these things will help you. If focusing on your breathing bothers you too much (for example, your heart rate) try not to focus on it. For this reason, I wouldn't suggest meditation, at least not in this stage of your anxiety, as mentioned previously regarding the breath being related to the tingling sensations.

    I highly suggest that you see a professional to talk to about your anxiety. I see one! :) They're a great help! Also, getting in a bit of a routine also helps, and start small! Like tea before bed, for example (relaxing things are awesome). However, I think one of the best suggestions that my therapist gave me was that, if I lay down to go to sleep, and I start to feel anxious, to get back up and do something, as it isn't going to help to just lie there and encourage your anxiety further. (Yes, getting a good sleeping pattern going is also beneficial, but not always entirely possible given certain situations). I really hope this helps you!

    Namaste,

    SkyLotus
  • Driving is extremely stressful. I usually experience the whole range of emotions
    on a short drive.
    Very good to practise mindfulness.
    Anger, frustration, fear,,,,
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