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Combatting Panic Attacks With These Powerful Tools

Panic Attacks

To get us started, I want to identify her triggers that cause her panic attacks. Her body has become very sensitive when it comes to her thoughts. Any slight sadness, fear, worry, anger, and like-thoughts (negative thoughts) will cause her legs to feel full blown discomfort and most of the time pain. Here’s how she always describes it: 

Description of Symptoms

  1. Legs feel frozen (tight). She couldn’t move. 
  2. Painful muscle contractions between toes and calf (cramps/spasms) 
  3. Involuntary jerking/twitching of feet. 

Whenever she stays in the Off-period for more than 10 minutes, more symptoms arise: 

  1. More intense sensations of symptoms a, b, and c.  
  2. Curling of toes. 
  3. Salivating. 
  4. Dry throat. 
  5. Difficulty breathing. 
  6. Fear of fainting/heart attack. 
  7. Masked face. 
  8. Crying with no tears. 
  9. Hot flashes. 
  10. Increased heart rate. 

There may be more I just can’t think of right now. You may say that adjustment to medications can fix it. Yes, we thought of that too. Mom’s doctors have adjusted her doses, introduced new medications, etc. but the panic attacks stayed. I’m not saying that medications did not affect her, it did, it does. Greatly. It is her main trigger. 

Main Triggers

  1. Meds causing her symptoms to show: She fears that it’s her meds that’s causing her issues. So whenever she is feeling okay and it’s time for her to take the next dose, it gives her extreme anxiety and sometimes full blown panic attack. She does not want to take her meds. 
  2. Not enough meds: She fears that the meds already wore off and will cause her pain if not taken NOW. So even if it’s not time to take the next dose yet, she wants to take them. 
  3. Meds not working: She fears that her medications are not working as they should. 
  4. Certain family members she thinks she owes them favor. 
  5. Past mistakes, future scares and stressful situations. 

Her panic attacks are almost consistent with her medication schedule that at the beginning of our journey, we attributed everything to PD symptoms. Later we realized, it’s not purely the medications effect on mom physically that’s causing her issues, but mentally. 

According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms for panic attack are as follows: 

  • Sense of impending doom or danger 
  • Fear of loss of control or death 
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate 
  • Sweating 
  • Trembling or shaking 
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat 
  • Chills 
  • Hot flashes 
  • Nausea 
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Chest pain 
  • Headache 
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness 
  • Numbness or tingling sensation 
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment 

Comparing my mom’s list against Mayo Clinic’s list, I can almost swear that her case is more of a Panic Attack than PD. Although, her PD makes it worse.  

Cycle of Fear

Whenever her Off-period starts and we don’t intervene, or she unknowingly allowed herself to dwell in the negatives – she falls into the “Cycle of fear” (as I call it). When she engages in negative thinking, PD symptoms arise. When PD symptoms arise, she worries that the pain will stay longer. When she worries, PD symptoms intensify. When her PD symptoms intensify, she gets very scared. When her fear is high, panic attack symptoms show. And the more symptoms, the stronger the fear. The stronger the fear, the more intense the symptoms are. I know! What a hell hole! It’s like impossible to solve. But hey, we are made beautifully – fear and giving up is not one of those characteristics.  

So what have we tried with mom when panic attacks?… 

Our top tools that work for us 

  1. Knowing when she’s starting to be pulled in that mode is very helpful. Her facial expression changes, the way she speaks changes. She becomes quiet. No opinions. Becomes a totally different person. Catching her during this transition prevents her from immersing herself in the negative hole of thoughts. Catching her in the sense that as soon as I or my brother notice the changes, we talk to her about things that we think are interesting for her. This technique also works even when she’s already immersed in that mode of horror (although, it takes more effort). This is extra challenging if you are unable to watch your patient 24/7 or during awake hours.
    • Topics can be happy moments from the past; 
    • Or positive outlook of the future; 
    • Or talking about the love of God; The reassurance that God will never abandon her usually works when she listens. Repeating calming affirmations can be helpful in reducing feelings of panic. Sometimes, we all need a reminder. Check out these stickers about God’s love and why we should not fear.  
    • Or asking her opinions on subjects she enjoys. 
  2. Reading aloud for at least 15 minutes takes her focus off from what she is feeling. This way she uses multiple senses; hearing, speaking, and reading at the same time forces someone to be focused on just that.  
  3. Singing Christian songs out loud. We love listening to 91.9 WGTS, or just a simple YouTube search. Here’s a playlist I created for mom, please feel free to use them if you think it will help (or try them).
  4. Watching anything about health or DIY videos.  
  5. Walking with support. 

Of course, one does not always work so we have to switch around. Sometimes, nothing works. I blame the hard-headedness in her. Mom just don’t feel like listening sometimes. We do get discouraged, but there will be another day. We need to keep moving forward.  

Tried but ineffective 

  1. Breathing techniques. Breathing slowly is a task for her and the slowness makes her feel like it’s not working.  
  2. Focusing on an object. This is extra hard because even a normal person has a hard time focusing when they are in pain. 
  3. 5-4-3-2-1 Method. Again, this exercise needs focus on things that didn’t really matter to her, especially when in pain.  
  4. Mantra. This worked for few weeks but wore off eventually. She would even say it and still be crying.  
  5. Muscle relaxation techniques, such as butterfly and the like. This is hard for people with PD as they do not have the muscle control that normal people do. 
  6. Counting backwards does not interest her. 
  7. We have also tried a variety of synthetic medications, and even Medical Cannabis, but nothing beats regular vigorous exercise. 

The objective is to distract her from the overwhelming and debilitating sensations she is feeling in her body. The more she focuses on how she is feeling, the longer she stays Off and the worse she gets. I always try to give her an example when reminding her she need not dwell in the pain. It’s like a magnifying glass, the more you focus on the pain, the more it gets bigger. But if we look away, not seeing it, we eventually forget about it. It is easier said than done, but knowing there is something that can be done than just crying her balls out is a good thing. 

When she first started to have panic attacks years ago, we thought it was the PD Symptoms. We really thought she was in great physical danger. There were no mentions of panic attacks or severe anxiety from her previous doctor visits and ER runs. There were times when she would scream at us crying out of fear, she wanted help. But all we could offer was leg rubs that did not really help. I’m sure she was genuinely scared, we all were. We were too focused attacking the disease and failed to address the main issue at hand. Ever since we changed our approach, we started to see improvements. 

If you are a caregiver of a loved one with PD, I’m sure you understand how frustrating it is to have to keep reminding them that they are okay, that nothing bad will happen. I must also constantly remind myself to stay calm too, while helping mom to be calm. It is a daily challenge.  

My hope in sharing this experience is to let you know that you, patients and caregivers, are not alone. It can look so hopeless a lot of times, but we are tough! Love is stronger than anything else. I hope that some, if not all, of the strategies I shared will work for you (and/or your loved one with PD). Remember that every patient is different, keep on trying until you find what works for you!

I can tell you though that prevention is always better than solution. Preventing negative thoughts is an impossible task, right? Especially with our situation. But helping the body to be at an optimum level so it can handle negative thoughts in a classier way is very much doable. Check out my other post: Secret to a Healthier Lifestyle: H E N S. 

Thank you for reading! May God’s brio be upon your health and life.

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