Panic attacks

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks, also known as panic disorders, are an unpredictable mental state in which an individual feels overwhelmed or frightened. They are random events which can happen at any time – people who have experienced these kinds of attacks more than twice can be said to have a panic disorder. A high proportion – up to about one-third, according to estimates – will experience a panic attack at some point in their life.

Symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, trembling, the feeling of choking, nausea, numbness in the body dizziness, chest pain, uncontrolled anxiety, and the fear of dying. Panic attacks are usually fairly brief, lasting around no more than 10 minutes. It is understood that people who have had a panic attack once can be at greater risk of having another one than individuals who have never experienced one. Those who suffer repeated attacks are classed as suffering from a panic disorder.

What causes panic attacks?

The exact cause of panic attacks is yet to be determined. There does seem to be a pattern of panic attacks being hereditary in some cases. Significant milestones in life – such as having a baby, getting married, or starting a new job – are also understood to have the potential to be a panic attack trigger. Certain physical conditions, or medically induced states, can also lead to panic attacks.

Treatment options for Panic Attacks

Therapy and counselling

Sessions with a therapist or counsellor can be central to treating panic attacks successfully. Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, can help those suffering from panic attacks to understand the disorder and cope better with it.

Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to teach people that panic attack symptoms are not dangerous, through their own experience. Therapists recreate panic attack symptoms, to emphasise the fact that symptoms are not dangerous, and help them to be resolved more easily when attacks do occur. This form of therapy is recognised as being effective in helping panic attack sufferers to stop fearing certain situations which have led to a panic attack in the past.

Counselling and therapy for panic attacks should not be seen as a ‘quick fix’, and sessions could take several weeks to be effective. Even when symptoms to subside significantly, it can be wise to schedule ‘maintenance’ visits with a counsellor or therapist, in order to continue controlling attacks.