What is a Panic Attack?


What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is defined as an identifiable period of time in which there is a sudden surge of terror and apprehension. Panic attacks are often associated with a feeling of impending doom or catastrophe. During an attack an individual may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Choking or feeling of suffocation
  • Chest discomfort
  • Derealization: a feeling that the world is not real, or Depersonalization: a feeling that you are not real.
  • Fear of “going insane”, losing control, or being trapped
  • Sweating
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Trembling
  • Fear of death, stroke or heart attack

The symptoms of a panic attack may last anywhere from five minutes to several hours. Panic attacks are very common, and are associated with periods of high stress. They often accompany other psychological disorders such as Anxiety Disorders, Agoraphobia, Specific Phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Phobia, Depression, Mania, and Substance Abuse.

Many individuals who experience panic attacks are fearful of having them in front of others. Fear of an embarrassing event occurring leads to social isolation. Basic functions of daily life may become compromised due to fear of attacks. Avoidance of activities such as driving a car, going to social events, flying, or being in a public place of any kind begin to impair career and social life. Panic attacks can, therefore, become debilitating.

Treatment for Panic Attacks

Fortunately, most of the time, Panic Attacks are highly treatable. The sooner you tackle them, the better, and you need not suffer for long.

The first step is to visit a medical doctor in order to make sure what you are experiencing is not caused by a medical issue. Then we can begin to know your symptoms for what they are: a panic attack, and demystify what you are experiencing. Individuals going through periods of high anxiety and increased panic attacks often feel like there is something physically wrong with them. It is important to rule out medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hormonal irregularities, or asthma so that we can isolate the anxiety as being due to psychological issues.

The second step is to identify what is triggering your panic attacks, where and when the attacks seem to happen most, and what might be happening to you when you experience them. Some of the triggers you might already be aware of but some of them may be out of your awareness. You will start to understand that your body is trying to tell you something about your emotional experiences that you yourself may not be aware of. Panic attacks can be quite frightening, feel like they come out of nowhere and be confusing to you.

The third step is understanding the underlying issues causing your panic attacks. As a collaborative therapist/client team we explore and resolve the possible relationship, family, work/career issues, trauma and other concerns that lay at the root of panic attacks. What you will find is the work flows in and out of the three steps and you are always working on identifying the symptoms, learning new techniques for managing anxiety, and working through underlying problems.

In my practice have encountered hundreds of people who have suffered from a panic attack at one time or another.  I am versed Panic Attack treatment and any resulting Panic Disorder, or Agoraphobia.   Anxiety and depression can be caused  by relationship patterns, job stress, difficult life transitions, trauma, and childhood emotional/sexual/physical abuse.  The sooner you find help, the better.