This involves a sudden strong increase in anxiety/fear/panic. The trigger for panic attacks may be identified but they can also occur when there is no identifiable trigger. During panic episodes people can struggle to breathe, feel dizzy, feel nauseous, have palpitations, have an urge to go to the toilet, feel numb, have tingling sensations and feel faint. These physical symptoms are the body’s response to a perceived threat and, although highly unpleasant, they are not dangerous. However, these physical symptoms can lead to fears that one may stop breathing, faint, have a heart attack, die, become out of control/crazy or vomit. These fears, in turn, can intensify the unpleasant physical symptoms which can further fuel the fears.
After one or several panic attacks, fear of having future panic attacks may develop. As a result people may avoid situations altogether where they fear they are likely to experience another panic attack or they may go into feared situations whilst taking precautions. For example, if going into a group setting an individual who fears they might have a panic attack may position themselves near to the exit so they can escape quickly should panic set in. Following experiencing one or many panic attack(s) a person may lose their confidence in situations where they may have previously not have had a problem with confidence.
Treatment for Panic Attacks
Therapy for panic attacks is often based upon Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT often involves firstly learning that the unpleasant physical sensations are your body’s normal response to perceived threat and are not dangerous. It’s actually your body trying to protect you! Relaxation techniques are introduced to help reduce the unpleasant physical symptoms. Fears are addressed through questioning and challenging them. One way to challenge them is by testing them out by gradually confronting your fears. You will learn that although avoiding situations and taking precautions when entering feared situations help to ease anxiety in the short term, in the longer term they keep anxiety going. Your therapist will guide you to gradually confront these situations and take precautions less. This will help you improve your anxiety and confidence. Confronting your fears may sound scary and is the opposite of what your brain and body are telling you to do. However, you will see that this is will soon get you on the road to recovery.