Panic Attacks

Panic is extreme anxiety or fear. A panic attack consists of a distinct combination of emotions and physical symptoms and can be an intensely frightening and a seriously upsetting experience. According to the American Psychological Association the symptoms of a panic attack can last from 15 seconds to approximately thirty minutes while sometimes they may form a cyclic series of episodes lasting for an extended period

Symptoms

A panic attack is characterised by a change in bodily or mental sensations. The most common symptoms may include: sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness of the chest, hot flushes, nausea, dizziness or light headiness and hyperventilation. These physical symptoms are interpreted with alarm in people prone to panic attacks and result in increased anxiety which forms a positive feedback loop

Short-Term Triggers/Causes

Panic attacks can be triggered by personal loss, including an emotional attachment to a romantic partner, physical and/or emotional trauma, life transitions, change, stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or drugs

Treatment

People who experience panic attacks can be successfully treated with therapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and/or anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants

Techniques

Many experienced sufferers use one or more of the following techniques to treat panic attacks:

  • Controlled Breathing – breathing slowly through the nose using and focusing on exhaling very slowly
  • Imagery – visualising scenes that are tranquil and relaxing
  • Cognitive Restructuring – involves both evaluating your estimations of danger and improving your awareness of coping options
  • Distraction – focus away from the thoughts or sensations that contribute to the anxiety
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a method that focuses on physical relaxation
  • Self talk – use coping statements as part of an internal monologue
  • Seeking support – talking to a professional