Panic attacks are characterised by sudden increases in anxiety. Physical symptoms may include, an increase in heart rate, breathlessness, dizziness and sweating. This may be accompanied by a fear of something awful happening such as having a heart attack, suffocating, fainting or embarrassing yourself. We call panic attacks that happen a lot over time Panic Disorder. You may start to avoid situations as a way of managing the attacks.
Panic is kept going by:
- Misinterpreting the physical sensations, as being a sign of imminent catastrophe e.g. I am going to collapse, faint, have a heart attack etc
- Behaving in a way that seems to reduce the threat, such as avoiding particular places.
- Focusing attention on the physical sensations and the threat, therefore exaggerating the fear.
Psychological help for panic disorder typically helps you to recognise that there are other explanations for the physical sensations and therefore reducing the thoughts of harm. You will be helped to face the feared situation to learn that the catastrophe does not occur. Gradually and sensitively you will be encouraged to reduce any unhelpful behaviours, such as avoidance.