Panic attacks can be one of the scariest experiences someone goes through. It is a period of intense fear lasting for at least 10 minutes, due to high levels of adrenaline. These levels prepare you for a fight or flight response, but in panic attacks, no one is physically attacking you – your body is responding to a false alarm of danger.
What causes a panic attack?
Panic is often stress induced, but panic attacks can happen out of the blue. Even having a small bit of anxiety can trigger an attack. Recurring attacks can happen at particular times, like when you’re in a crowded place or even on the bus.
Who gets them?
They are a lot more common than you might think. Around one in 60 people has a panic attack on a regular basis, and more than one in 20 have had one at some point in their lives. They even run in families.
What are the symptoms?
Fear is the trigger of a panic attack, so is the main symptom of one. Other symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Numbness or tingling, usually in your hands, feet and lips
- Hot or cold flushes
- Chest pains
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Feeling like you’re in a dreamlike state
- Feeling you’re going crazy
- Worrying you might be dying
What should you do?
You can learn techniques to help control your symptoms in the short term. To help in the long term, you need to look at what’s triggering the panic attacks, and then challenge those thoughts to get rid of them. This is where a psychologist practising CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) comes in.
Controlling your breathing can help panic attacks. Breathing in and out slowly through your nose will help you concentrate on something other than your fear. You can also try to distract yourself as soon as you feel anxious.
Using cognitive behavioral therapy can help with anxiety and panic attacks. When you have a panic attack, you might be getting panicky because you’re in a crowd. So you specifically avoid the crowds to stop the panic attack happening. CBT will challenge these thoughts and will stop you exhibiting avoidance behaviors so you can cope with your panic attacks in the long term.