Panic attacks

Panic Attacks: what are they and how can you deal with them?

Most people have experienced anxiety at some point in their life, and we have all heard of people panicking in some situation or other, but what exactly is a panic attack?

A panic attack is when you suddenly experience a short-lived episode of overpowering anxiety and terror. During an attack you may experience a variety of extremely distressing symptoms such as heart palpitations; difficulty in breathing; chest pain or the feeling that you are choking. You may also feel that you are losing control or think you are ‘going crazy’. In fact, the nature of these symptoms leads many people to believe that they are actually dying from a serious life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack or stroke.

If those thoughts have gone through your head, then rest assured; panic attacks will not kill you. In fact, what you have been experiencing is an extreme anxiety, or ‘fight or flight’, reaction.

The nature & symptoms of panic attacks

Panic attacks either occur in relation to particular situations (known as ‘cued’ panic) or arise spontaneously and ‘out of the blue’ (un-cued).

Many people find that their panic attacks happen outside of the home, but they can occur anywhere and at any time. In fact, some people can have an attack whilst asleep and be woken up in a high state of fear and anxiety.

DSM 5 defines a panic attack as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four or more of the following symptoms occur. The abrupt surge can occur from a calm state or an anxious state.”

Symptoms associated with panic attacks

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Palpitations or racing heart rate
  • Choking sensation
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
  • Sweating
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling unsteady or faint
  • Feeling unreal or detached from yourself and surroundings
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’

Panic attacks can vary in their duration but will usually be over within 20 to 30 minutes, and seldom exceed an hour. You may have one or more attacks and then be completely fine, or you might suffer repeated episodes that are related to another condition like panic disorder; General Anxiety Disorder; depression; agoraphobia; or other phobias.

Because many of these symptoms are the same as those related to various medical conditions, it is always wise to consult your doctor in the first instance to rule out the possibility of a medical cause.

Treating Panic Attacks

The first thing to realise is that panic is very treatable. You don’t need to continue suffering these distressing episodes.

If, like many people, your panic is the result of psychological factors (of which you may not be consciously aware), such as what you believe and how you think, then you can deal with this issue by changing these mental processes.

This is where hypnotherapy and psychotherapy can help. Such therapy can:

  • Provide you with tools and mechanisms you can use to feel more comfortable in any situation. This starts the process of enabling you to change your perceptions and take back control of your life.
  • Facilitate a better understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and mental processes that are causing the issue.
  • Enable you to find ways of challenging and changing these factors and patterns, so that you are no longer concerned about situations in which you might previously have panicked.

Although medication will not address the cause of your panic attacks, it can be used to reduce some of the distressing symptoms, such as anxiety. Your doctor can advise you on which drugs would be most appropriate for you.

Contact Us to find out how True Progress can help you.