Panic attacks are experienced when the normal physical sensations of anxiety are perceived as dangerous and the symptoms are interpreted as indicating that you are going to die (heart attack, suffocation etc). Feelings of terror strike as if out of the blue, without any warning and although a panic attack may present itself as a single event, many experience such episodes repeatedly and randomly and this in time leads to panic disorder. As such attacks are unpredictable, people often begin to worry about their occurrence (anticipatory anxiety) between episodes and find themselves in a constant state phobic avoidance of perceived anxiety-provoking contexts.
Panic attacks, which can occur at any time, even during non-dream sleep, are marked by such symptoms as:
- Pounding heart
- Being overcome by weakness or faintness
- Tingling sensations or a feeling of numbness in the hands
- Chest pain, sensations of smothering, loss of control or a sense of losing touch with reality
- Belief that you are having a heart attack or a stroke, losing your mind or on the verge of dying.
The attack lasts generally for a few minutes but can continue for up to 10 minutes. In some rare cases, an attack may continue for an hour or more. If you are experiencing panic attacks, you may find that your life has become restricted as you avoid the situations in which you fear an attack may strike. Alternatively, you may find that you are becoming increasingly dependent on your significant other to accompany you in such situations.
Psychotherapy and medication are often used hand in hand in the treatment of panic and together can lead to lasting relief. I offer an integrative approach to panic which includes CBT (collaborative exploration and restructuring of thoughts and working together towards behavioural changes) in addition to mindfulness, relaxation and imagery techniques. The aim of therapy is to learn to cope with bodily sensations as they emerge and replace panic-provoking thoughts with more appropriate reality-based alternatives.