A panic attack can go from zero to a hundred within minutes and you may feel like something terrible will happen to you!
Panic attacks can be extremely disabling for people who experience them. Sometimes, people end up avoiding activities or situations that they associate with these feelings of panic.
Many people have panic attacks at some point in their lives which may happen only once or twice and never again. However, other people have to deal with constantly reoccurring attacks. Living a normal life becomes a nearly impossible challenge for people who suffer from panic attacks and often they don’t get to enjoy their lives.
The good news is that panic attack treatment can help people to gain control and reduce the occurrence of panic attacks.
What are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are intense surges of panic, fear, dread or anxiety that occur suddenly and they tend to go hand-in-hand with uncomfortable physical symptoms. These attacks can be quite overwhelming and a person may find it difficult to breathe, tremble, sweat profusely and feel their heart pounding during a panic attack.
Some people may also have chest pains which may cause them to think that they are having a heart attack. Others may start feeling detached from reality. Panic attacks can be intense enough to make people believe that they are dying or losing their minds.
Panic attacks are unpleasant experiences and they can be downright frightening. This is why people who have repeated panic attacks are often worried that they will have more attacks. Eventually, this fear causes them to make lifestyle changes to avoid getting panic attacks.
The term “panic attack” is used very loosely these days for any type of anxious reaction. Often, people describe being panicky as having a panic attack. A real panic attack goes along with intense physical symptoms and it is not merely a state of emotional distress.
Other conditions like heart problems or thyroid issues may resemble panic attacks. Your doctor can determine if you indeed have panic attacks or perhaps even panic disorder. To help pinpoint the diagnosis, your health care provider may:
- Do a complete physical examination
- Order blood tests or other tests to rule out heart or thyroid problems
- Perform a psychological evaluation
Your doctor or therapist will talk to you during a psychological evaluation of your symptoms, family history, and emotional concerns. You may need to fill out a questionnaire or psychological self-assessment.
Our bodies are equipped to prepare us to handle physical emergencies. A panic attack can be compared to an alarm system that goes off without any real threats. Panic attacks can occur suddenly and unexpectedly in a calm situation or they may happen during an anxious state.
Even though panic attacks are characteristic of panic disorder, some individuals may experience panic attacks as a part of other psychological disorders. Someone with social anxiety may have panic attacks before speaking in front of a large audience while a person who has obsessive-compulsive disorder may get a panic attack when something prevents them from performing a ritual or compulsion.
Signs and Symptoms
Panic attacks usually begin during young adulthood, but they can occur at any time in a person’s life. Panic attack treatment should be considered if someone is struggling with the symptoms of such attacks and especially if they interfere with their daily functioning.
A panic attack generally begins abruptly and without warning. It peaks at around 10 minutes and it can last from a few minutes to half an hour or, sometimes, even longer.
Some of the physical symptoms that may trouble people who get panic attacks include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling like they are struggling to breathe
- Tightness in the throat
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal issues
- Feeling faint or light-headed
- Bodily chills or abnormal heat sensations
- Feeling pins and needles sensations
- Feelings of unreality
- A feeling of being detached
- Fear of losing control
- Being afraid of dying
Panic attacks can develop into Panic Disorder when someone becomes pre-occupied with their fear of having another attack. This can lead to them avoiding places where they had attacks in the past or situations that may trigger future attacks.
Remember that everyone who has panic attacks may not necessarily have panic disorder. The following points, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), are requirements for a diagnosis of panic disorder as published by the American Psychiatric Association:
- The person frequently has unexpected panic attacks
- At least one panic attack has been followed by a month or more of continual worrying about having more attacks; or ongoing fear of the consequences of having an attack; or significant behavioral changes to avoid attacks.
- The panic attacks are not caused by drug use, a medical condition or any other mental health conditions.
People who have panic attacks can still benefit from panic attack treatment even if they don’t have a formal diagnosis of panic disorder. Untreated panic attacks can become worse and may develop into panic disorder or phobias.
First Line Treatments
Treatment can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks and people who receive panic attack treatment may function better on a daily basis.
Panic attack treatment usually involves psychological therapy or medication. Your doctor may also prefer to use both. Patience is key as the treatment for panic attacks may take some time to work. The good news is that people who stick to their treatment plans usually find relief from their symptoms.
Medications used in panic attack treatment approaches can help to prevent panic attacks or to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks. They may also be useful for decreasing the anxiety associated with the anticipation of future attacks and to reduce the physical symptoms that go along with panic attacks.
As patients start to realize that their panic attacks become less severe and less frequent, they begin to gain more confidence to venture into the situations that they feared before. Different types of medications may help in panic attack treatment like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and, if needed, medicines to control heartbeat irregularities.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are antidepressants. They are usually recommended as the first option of medications in panic attack treatment. Examples of SSRI’s used to treat panic disorder are fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil).
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI’s) are a different class of antidepressants that may help to treat panic attacks. An example of this type of antidepressant medication is venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications. Some examples of benzodiazepines used in panic attack treatment include clonazepam (Klonopin) and alprazolam (Xanax). These medications should be used with caution as they can interact with alcohol and other drugs and cause dangerous side-effects. Also, when treatment is discontinued, it should be done by tapering the medication off slowly as abrupt discontinuation may lead to seizures.
All medications may cause side-effects and some medications may not be suitable to take during pregnancy. Furthermore, your doctor may need to try more than one type of medication to find out what works best for you. Keep in mind that it may take several weeks before you start noticing the improvements brought about by panic attack treatment.
If you are concerned about the side-effects that medications used for treating panic attacks may have, speak to a health care professional about your concerns.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
The patient’s fear of future panic attacks and their behavior to avoid situations that may trigger such attacks forms the central part of Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. This type of therapy has two components. Firstly, exposing the patient to situations or thoughts that cause anxiety and secondly, preventing their response of avoiding them.
The therapist works with the patient to identify the perceived outcome of a situation. They then devise a plan to expose the patient gradually to situations that make them anxious. The patient is encouraged not to try and avoid or reduce their anxiety during an exposure. ERP therapy helps an individual to recognize the fear driving their anxiety and as the exposure is done in a safe and controlled manner, the fear is neutralized. Therefore, it becomes less likely to cause anxiety.
The main goal of ERP therapy is to counteract avoidance behavior. While escaping or avoiding may provide an individual with temporary relief, this type of behavior reinforces dysfunctional behavior and it doesn’t have any benefits for the life quality of the patient. With ERP therapy, the brain is rewired as the patient learns that the outcome they fear most will not occur and that they don’t need to avoid or escape anything.
Intensive treatments are rarely used for panic attack treatment or for the treatment of panic disorder. Such treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy, are more commonly used in situation where panic attacks co-occur with other, more severe disorders.
Cognitive therapy can modify the thought patterns that contribute to the patient’s symptoms and the goal of behavioral therapy is to help the patient to change their behavior. The combination of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy can teach patients to recognize the thoughts and feelings that caused the panic attacks and they can learn how to modify their responses. This means that the individual can gain more insight into the situation and be in better control of the problem.
In addition to panic attack treatment, you could try joining support groups, doing yoga or start getting some exercise.
It helps to surround yourself by people who can support you during your treatment. Joining a support group is a great way to gain encouragement and strength from other people who face similar challenges to yours.
Yoga and deep breathing exercises can help to relax your body and to lower stress levels.
Exercise is known to calm the mind and it may also have benefits for reducing the side-effects that certain medications may cause like weight gain.
Find a Therapist Now
At ThriveTalk, we understand how debilitating panic attacks can be and we are here to assist you. We have made the task of finding a therapist easy for you.
Our fully trained, licensed, accredited and experienced psychologists can provide you with guidance that is based on clinically proven psychological practices and the latest methodologies available in human psychology. We are dedicated to equipping you with proactive strategies to overcome life’s obstacles.
Get in touch with us to learn more about our services and about how we at ThriveTalk can provide you with the assistance you need.
When you experience sudden and intense physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, dizziness, shaking, shortness of breath you may be having a real panic attack. You may feel like something terrible is about to happen.
Panic attack treatment can help you to realize that you need not fear the worst and that everything might, in fact, be alright.
Keep calm and love your life!