Dr. Dawn Bazarko vividly remembers the shock of her first panic attack.
Deprived of sleep, over caffeinated and juggling a full-time job while in graduate school, she was completely exhausted and overloaded. “It was a stressful time. I had just completed an important exam and I spent the evening worrying about how it went when panic attack took over my body, hijacking my mind. I felt like I was going to come completely out of my body as my heart raced,” said Dawn.
That wouldn’t be the first time stress or anxiety would manifest itself into a physical reaction. Dawn, who holds a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate degree in nursing, learned to recognize and calm herself when she notices the onset of a panic attack. She also appreciates that others may not be able to quickly identify the warning signs and know what to do.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates 2 to 3 percent of Americans – roughly 6 million people – experience panic disorder annually. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5 percent of U.S. adults experience a panic attack at some point in their life, and women tend to be disproportionately affected.
“The overwhelming, life-or-death feeling of a panic attack can come on suddenly,” Dawn said. They can prompt physical reactions such as shortness of breath or an inability to breathe, heart palpitations, involuntary shaking and trembling, tingling in the fingers or toes, chest pain, nausea and surges of heat or chills.
“The symptoms can mimic other serious diseases, so people often end up in the emergency room thinking they’re experiencing a heart attack or a stroke,” she said.
The sudden spike in anxiety varies from one person to the next, but there are common triggers, such as feeling stressed or overwhelmed, worrying about a medical condition or dealing with a psychological issue.
Never forgetting the frightful first attack, Dawn has bridged her personal experience and professional expertise to help others better manage their health through meditative self-care. She is the founder and senior vice president of Moment Health, affiliated with UnitedHealthcare, an organization offering mindfulness and resiliency solutions to individuals from all walks of life.
To help lessen the chance of a panic attack, consider these proactive tips:
- Know your personal triggers. Lack of sleep, chronic stress and overstimulating technology use are common culprits.
- Exercise regularly to reduce anxiety.
- Limit caffeine.
- Practice meditation and breathing techniques.
During May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, learn more about panic attacks, so you can help recognize the symptoms. Consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss managing your mental health.