Are you having a panic attack?

Posted September 27th, 2017

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A panic attack is an extremely intense psychological event. An overwhelming wave of fear may strike without warning or apparent reason, but with an intensity that is both debilitating and immobilising. In fact, the sudden onset of severe anxiety may make you think you’re going crazy or are about to die.

You may only ever have one panic attack or suffer from recurrent episodes that may be triggered by particular circumstances that make you feel endangered and unable to escape. Triggers can be specific situations that are particularly fear inducing to you, such as public speaking, being stuck in a lift or crossing a bridge.

Whether you are normally a happy and healthy person or your panic attacks are part of a wider mental health issue such as panic disorder, social phobia or depression, it is treatable and the sooner you seek help, the better. Coping strategies can be used to deal with the symptoms, while effective panic attack treatment can help you regain control of your life.

Signs and symptoms

A panic attack develops suddenly, typically reaching its peak within 10 minutes and lasting about half an hour. Perhaps surprisingly, the signs and symptoms are physical rather than mental and often mimic very serious health issues. Typical symptoms include:

• Chest pains
• Shortness of breath
• Dizziness or fainting
• Muscle weakness
• Racing heart
• Tingling or numbness in hands/feet
• Hot and cold flushes
• Nausea
• Trembling all over
• Feeling detached from reality

Could it be a heart attack?

Since the signs and symptoms of a panic attack are so physical and severe, it is easy to mistake them for heart attack symptoms. However, there are some important differences:

• Heart attack induced chest pains tend to radiate more through the shoulder
• Heart attacks peak straight away while panic attacks tend to peak after around 10 minutes
• Heart attacks may involve vomiting

Panic attacks often cause incredibly intense feelings of impending doom, like something terrible is about to happen. Unsurprisingly, many panic attack sufferers will head straight to the doctor or hospital to get treatment for what they think may be a life threatening medical emergency.

Admittedly, the symptoms can be confusing to the lay person and often the only way to obtain clarity when you’re having an attack is to seek medical advice right away.

How to treat panic attacks

Panic attacks can be treated successfully with counselling and psychotherapy to help sufferers understand and manage symptoms, overcome attacks and reduce the frequency of occurrences. Panic attack management therapies can also help with the development of skills needed for coping successfully with any future attacks.

Panic attacks can be treated successfully with counselling and psychotherapy to help sufferers understand and manage symptoms, overcome attacks and reduce the frequency of occurrences. Panic attack management therapies can also help with the development of skills needed for coping successfully with any future attacks.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is generally viewed as the most effective psychotherapy for dealing with panic attacks and panic disorder. Focusing on the thinking patterns and behaviours that bring on panic, CBT can help to reshape these thought patterns. Relaxation training and exposure therapy may also be used to help overcome the problem.

Psychotherapy is a useful tool to help panic attack sufferers understand the root of the problem through childhood experiences, previous personal difficulties or past relationships and remove any underlying issues that may give rise to panic.

Finally, it is useful to have an arsenal of self-help tips at your fingertips to help you cope with anxiety and minimise your exposure to it. These include:

• Deep breathing exercise to relieve hyperventilation and calm yourself down
• Relaxation techniques (e.g. meditation, yoga) practised regularly to combat stress
• 30 minutes of regular exercise a day (e.g. walking, running, swimming, dancing) to relieve anxiety
• 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night to maintain a healthy balance
• No smoking, alcohol or caffeine or other stimulants since these can provoke panic attacks in some people
• Social contact with friends and family to avoid isolation induced anxieties
• Education about panic and anxiety to help you recognise symptoms

Filled Under: Anxiety, Panic
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