How do I deal with my panic attacks?
September 22, 2018 6:58 PM   Subscribe

I've recently discovered that hearing someone being in pain will give me a panic attacks.

My mom was shouting in pain while she was getting an IV and I had to leave the room because I could feel one coming on. Recently, I overheard some people discussing brutal injuries in sports. They proceeded to show another person the video of an athlete tearing up his ankle. I had to leave again because I could feel myself getting light-headed and nauseous. If I stayed a couple seconds more I would have had a full blown panic attack. I rarely ever get panic attacks except in these situations. They're absolutely awful and leave me feeling exhausted and out of control. What should I do to lessen the occurrences?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're having a vasovagal response.

You can press something cold up against your eyes. You can clinch your thighs and glutes. If you google "vasovagal response" you can find more discussion about what to do.

I get these and it's awful. I'll be honest, more often than not I end up passing out.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:23 PM on September 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Not to second guess your own experience, but are you sure you're having an actual panic attack? I agree with humboldt32 that you're having a vasovagal response. I get that same thing from hearing descriptions of or seeing injuries or surgeries.

The best thing is to really pay attention to your body's responses. Leave the room as soon as you feel it coming on. Sit down and put your head down between your legs, or lie down with your feet up. Cold compress on the head or abdomen can also help. If you can't leave and it's someone who can actually control what they're saying/doing (like the people discussing the injury, ugh), you can very firmly say "please stop talking about that immediately, I will actually pass out if you do not." If that doesn't work you can literally close your eyes, press your fingers to your ears, and hum to yourself to block them out.
posted by radioamy at 7:59 PM on September 22, 2018

Yes, honestly, as someone who has had both at one time or another, this sounds much more like a vasovagal response in context. Your heart rate has dropped along with your blood pressure (your blood vessels have dilated) and the blood is pooling in your legs (wrong end of the body!), so the thing to do is to position your body in such a way that the blood is flowing back, as described above. Applying something cold to your neck may also help, as a chill usually brings your bp back up. But I'd prioritize lying down over running to the fridge for an ice pack.
posted by praemunire at 8:38 PM on September 22, 2018

I get the same thing as you! I have a strong empathetic response and also react this way to any needles or blood of my own. Once I was the ride home for a friend after wisdom teeth surgery and fainted as soon as I walked into the exam room to get him. He was in better shape to drive home than I was!

Best way to understand a vasovagal response is that your body is trying to protect you by dropping your blood pressure suddenly to keep you from bleeding out. It overreacts to these emotional and physical situations as if your arm has suddenly been cut off... Except you are in no danger at all- just hearing someone get an IV in another room!

For me, recognizing the awful feeling of slowly blacking out is just a blood pressure drop, helps me reduce that panic. I immediately sit down, close my eyes and ride out the feeling. It will pass in a minute or so and then you will be back to 100% within 5 minutes. Just sit or lay down so you don't fall.
posted by KMoney at 8:01 AM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

For me, recognizing the awful feeling of slowly blacking out is just a blood pressure drop, helps me reduce that panic.

It's actually possible to learn to enjoy that feeling and kind of surf it until the ride is over; I have. But this has been kind of dangerous: a couple of times I've let it go for a tiny bit too long before getting my head close to the floor to turn it off, waking up bruised and surrounded by regrettable amounts of stuff knocked over by flailing limbs on the way down.

The enjoyment does stave off the formerly ensuing panic attack, though, which is good.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 AM on September 23, 2018

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