Suzanne was relaxing like she does every Saturday morning at the nail salon. She was putting her feet in the tub, the massage chair was activated and she was getting an amazing pedicure. She was talking to the other ladies in the salon about the weather for the coming weekend and the coming holidays.
Suddenly, her skin began to itch, blazing. She straightened her feet, perhaps the water was too hot. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead, and she felt her back and armpits wet with sweat. Susan sat there paralyzed, her heart racing so fast, the beating so hard it felt like her chest was going to explode. She couldn’t breathe. Oh, my God! I thought I was having a heart attack. The walls were approaching her, everyone was looking at her, and people must have thought she was crazy.
She had to get out, get out, get out now! Susan jumped out of the pedicure chair and ran to the door. She walked out of the salon and entered the parking lot, barefoot. She breathes, she breathes, she can breathe again! Suddenly, she realized she was in the parking lot barefoot. How can she get back there? What would you say? This painful? Does any of this sound familiar?
Panic attacks come quickly, often without warning and in places you would never imagine. What could be more relaxing than a pedicure?
Understanding why attacks start is the first step in preventing them. What actually prompted Susan was talking about the holidays. The thought of all the gifts she had to buy, the meals she had to prepare, the cards she had to spend, and the other preparations she had to make sends her into a state of panic.
Like most panic attack sufferers, I thought she was dying or having a heart attack or some other serious medical emergency. Her only motive was to escape from sensations, experience and fear. Its fight-or-flight response was triggered.
In fact, most attacks come quickly and leave quickly. This is what scares them the most. They come on strong, often out of nowhere and severely interrupt a person’s life. Susan’s panic from start to finish was less than five minutes long. Most attacks last only a few minutes but leave lingering fears and anxiety long afterward.
Once Susan was able to breathe again, the realization that she had acted in such an embarrassing manner took its toll. The lethargy experienced after a seizure often leaves long-lasting effects. Explaining yourself and reassuring others is only the first part of the process. Then you become so obsessed with avoiding the situation that you call your panic attack.
Suzanne has not been to this or any other nail salon again for years. She has lost contact with the ladies at the nail salon, and shuns the same ladies if she sees them around town, in the mall, in the supermarket. Dodging behind a donut display to avoid seeing someone you’ve known for years might seem extreme but for panic attack sufferers, it’s not.
Susan also stopped going to the hair salon because she thought sitting in a chair in one of those places caused him to attack her and she didn’t want to look or act like an idiot in the hair salon. She justified this by telling everyone that she was growing her hair out. She told herself that she was economical and that it was a good move for her family.
Suzanne’s condition worsened as the weeks and months passed after her initial panic attack at the nail salon. Her life was unknown and her priorities were out of control.
Why did all this happen? She was afraid of having another panic attack. The anxiety, if not checked or treated, can become disabling, eventually leading to generalized anxiety disorder, GAD, or phobias, such as agoraphobia, which are a common accompanying condition of the attacks.
The good news is that you can help yourself, you can manage and prevent panic attacks. The key to preventing them is understanding the source of your anxiety and then managing your lifestyle and thought process.