Panic Attacks

What Are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are momentary episodes, in which anxiety upsurges into a swell of terror. The “attacks” usually crest at 10 minutes and subside entirely after 30 minutes. However, the physiological symptoms of panic attacks—which often mimic the warning signs of a heart attack—can generate lingering, psychological distress. Similar to the hyperarousal of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this heightened agitation can actually enhance your likelihood of having future attacks.

In fact, individuals with a history of Panic Disorder are more likely to develop Agoraphobia, or a fear of entrapment in public places—which actually seems pretty logical. After all, when your panic attacks reduce you to curling into the fetal position and trembling on floor of a department store, it can be undoubtedly embarrassing!

Speaking of mortification, here’s a common misconception about panic attacks redressed: Although individuals who have panic attacks may come to over rely on family and friends for comfort and care, they aren’t attention seekers. In fact, frequent panic attacks usually motivate the sufferer to avoid future contact with any triggering event that could catalyze an episode! This in part is why panic attacks can be so devastating—because Panic Disorder can disrupt all aspects of your life, including your performance at work and school and your participation in everyday activities, like grocery shopping or driving your kids to soccer practice!

Signs & Symptoms of Panic Attacks may include:

  • Cardiac Symptoms: Terror that makes your heart rate skyrocket, flutter (palpitate), or pound; chest pain
  • Respiratory Symptoms & Sensations: Hyperventilating; sensations of suffocation; or feeling as though your throat is swelling shut and you can’t breathe
  • Trembling in fear or sobbing uncontrollably
  • Restless agitation that makes your skin crawl
  • Sudden terror of impending death, losing control, or of going “mad”
  • Rushing thoughts, as though hearing your internal voice on a tape recorder that becomes set to fast forward
  • Out-of-body detachment or blurring of reality; or conversely, heightened (and painfully intense) sensory perception
  • Tunnel vision
  • Waves of nausea, dizziness, or pins-and-needles tingling in the extremities; fainting
  • Muscular Tension Long Term Symptoms of Panic Disorder (or Habitual Panic Attacks) may also include:
    • Agoraphobia
    • Overreliance on family and friends for comfort and care
    • Avoidance of everyday activities that might trigger an attack
    • Self-medication with drugs or alcohol to mitigate symptoms
    • Depression or suicidal thoughts

    What Causes Panic Attacks?

    Panic attacks often have a discernible cause, for example: a debilitating attack of stage fright or an explosion of anxiety that occurs during a high-pressure exam. However, just as often, panic attacks can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph without any forewarning—even awakening an individual out of a sound sleep!

    In addition, certain medical conditions—such as low blood sugar, hyperthyroidism, or specific forms of heart abnormalities—can trigger panic attacks in individuals who would not otherwise be considered susceptible. However, in the absence of an identifiable medical condition, it is unknown why some individuals are more likely to experience panic attacks than others; but genetics, defects in the neuro-processing of stressful stimuli, and endocrine dysfunction are speculated to play a major role. In addition, drug and alcohol consumption or discontinuation can activate the panic response.

    How Can Counseling & Therapy For Panic Attacks Improve My Condition?

    Although medications can be prescribed to complement counseling for anxiety, psychotherapy is considered to be the gold standard for treating panic attacks. Without therapeutic intervention, individuals who are diagnosed with Panic Disorder are more likely to relapse. Fortunately, a wide range of counseling alternatives exist to effectively manage your panic. Your therapist may recommend:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: addresses maladaptive thought patterns (such as catastrophic thinking or hypervigilance regarding subtle changes in bodily sensation) that perpetuate your likelihood of having panic attacks; replaces destructive beliefs with beneficial coping mechanisms for anxiety that enable you to minimize your anxiety
    • Stress Management: targets specific sources of stress in your life (academic, occupational, interpersonal, and more+) and empowers you to proactively identify strategies for ensuring your success without surrendering to emotional overwhelm
    • Exposure Therapy: gradual exposure to known triggers that activate your panic response in a safe space where you can practice relaxation tactics to overcome your anxiety
    • Relaxation Techniques: methods—such as psychotherapeutic yoga, meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation—that train self-soothing as a mechanism to halt your anxiety mid-panic attack
    • Medication Management: as a supplement to traditional therapy, we collaborate with several area physicians who can prescribe and monitor anti-anxiety medications
(409) 200-2220

Send a Message