Panic Attacks

Overcoming Panic Attacks

Torn pieces of paper with the word "Panic Attack". Concept Image. Close-up.

Therapy for panic attacks at The Consulting Clinic uses Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), based on David Clark’s treatment approach.

When people first experience panic attacks, they often don’t know that it is a panic attack. It often starts off with an initial panic attack that is very intense and scary. People often go to A&E when they have their first panic attack due to the uncertainty of the physical symptoms. After the first panic attack, an individual my be overly focused on the physical symptoms of anxiety and feel hyperalert, often developing ‘anticipatory’ anxiety for situations that might illicit panic, this often leads to avoiding situations that cause panic attacks.

Why do people experience panic attacks?

Research has shown a link between panic attacks and genetics. However, most people tend to develop panic attacks when under a large degree of stress. Our mind and body communicate and when under stress our body responds to anxious thoughts and thus prepares for action, engaging in a fight/flight response. The fight/flight response is a stress reaction that likely evolved out of the survival needs of our early ancestors living with the daily dangers of the time. Researchers have identified numerous physiological changes that occur during the flight-or-flight stress response. These changes are believed to be triggered by the sympathetic nervous system through the release of stress hormones, such as, epinephrine (adrenaline) into the blood stream. This release causes immediate physical reactions in preparation of the muscular activity needed to fight or flee the threat.

Panic attack symptoms can be overwhelming, often coming out of the blue and take individuals by surprise. Thus, many people respond to panic attacks by avoiding situations where they experienced panic or high anxiety. Some people will experience panic attacks in certain situations like travelling on public transport, travelling away from home, flying, when in enclosed spaces or when in crowds.

People often experience panic attacks when under a lot of stress. This leads to increased anxiety and physical changes in your body, which is the body responding to anxiety.

Typical Physical Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can include usually four or more of the following:

  •  Pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  •  Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of choking
  • Stomach cramps
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Hot flushes
  • Pins and needles
  • An out of body or un real feeling
  •  Numbness in hands
  • Pupils dilate with blurred vision
  • Dry mouth

Typical Cognitive Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Individuals usually report racing thoughts. Panic is often brought on by the catastrophic interpretation of the harmless, yet unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. Thoughts include:

  •  ‘‘I’m out of control’’
  •  ‘‘I’m going to faint’’
  • ‘‘I’m having a heart attack’’
  •  “I feel like I am going mad”
  •  ‘‘I will vomit’’
  •  ‘‘I’ll make a fool of myself’’
  • “I can’t breathe”
  • ”I’m going to suffocate”
  • ‘‘Something bad is going to happen’’
  • ‘‘Why is this happening’’

Unhelpful behaviours that maintain Panic Attacks

What maintains panic attacks is the interpretation or misinterpretation of the physical symptoms, which then leads to unhelpful behaviours.

▪ Avoiding the places or situations that are associated with panic attacks.
▪ Sitting down or holding onto something
▪ An overwhelming need to escape the situation and return to a place of safety.

Our minds tend to problem solve by escaping when appears to be dangerous. However, with panic attacks it is often counter-productive because the symptoms are not dangerous but the misinterpretation and worry leads people to escape and avoid situations that may bring on anxiety and therefore maintaining panic attacks.

Treatment

The best treatment for Panic Attacks is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is an evidence based therapy that has been informed by David Clark who has spent years researching panic attacks and has developed an effective trialed and tested therapy model and protocol to help people overcome panic attacks.

CBT for panic attacks are usually carried out over 6-8 sessions and target unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. It also gives you skills to equip you to manage anxiety and not to avoid situations. If you have the treatment with the right practitioner that adheres to the protocol, it can be brief and successful. Furthermore, treatment requires out of session work for the client to build on in- between sessions to ensure generalization of skills and to become panic free.

If you feel panic attacks are affecting you, or if you would like to find out further information about this topic, contact the practice for a confidential appointment.

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