Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times during their lifetime. It’s a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations.
However, for some of us, anxiety and panic attacks are a regular experience which is highly distressing and can start to interfere with our everyday life.
Panic disorder is where you have recurring and regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason. Panic attacks can be very frightening and intense, but they are not dangerous.
“I thought I was dying when I had anxiety attacks and my husband called an ambulance last time. Terrifying. I have been helped to get my anxiety and attacks more under my control.”
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What is it?
A panic attack occurs when your body experiences an intense rush of psychological and physical symptoms and you feel overwhelmingly afraid.
You may feel faint, sweat, tremble, feel nauseous and feel your heart beating fast. The frequency of attacks varies from person to person. Some people have one or two attacks each month, while others may have several attacks a week.
Everyone who has panic disorder will experience panic attacks. However, not everyone who has panic attacks is diagnosed with panic disorder. Some people have panic attacks in response to specific frightening situations for example, being in an enclosed space. See Phobias
Panic disorder will only be diagnosed after experiencing recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, and if the attacks are followed by at least one month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.
Having a panic attack is very frightening and distressing. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be accompanied by thoughts of intense fear.
Attacks seem to happen without warning or reason and can last between 5-20 minutes and may make you have any of the following symptoms:
- a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- hot flushes
- shortness of breath
- a choking sensation
- chest pain
- feeling faint
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling sensation in your fingers
Once we have had a panic attack, we dread having another and this creates a vicious cycle of fear which adds to our anxiety. You may start avoiding people and places as a way of controlling your attacks and this can lead to agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.
Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. It is important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath won’t result in you having a heart attack. Although panic attacks can often be frightening, they don’t cause any physical harm.
How Let's Talk can help
At Let’s Talk we will assess your needs and offer you the appropriate treatment to help you to get back on track. The help we offer may include self-help, attending a course, individual guided self-help over the telephone or face-to-face therapy sessions. You may also be advised by your GP to consider anti-depressant medication.
CBT is thought to be one of the most effective psychological treatments for panic disorder. Sessions will help you understand that the panic attacks are triggered by your own thoughts and reactions and teach you to manage this. The therapy will also help you to change your behaviour to reduce the likelihood of further attacks.