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Understanding panic attacks

Understanding panic attacks

A panic attack is really an extreme form of anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety at times as it’s a natural response to stressful or potentially dangerous situations.

But some people develop what’s known as panic disorder. It is an anxiety disorder where somebody experiences sudden panic attacks. 

This means they have regular feelings of stress, anxiety and panic. This can be at any moment – and frequently there is no obvious reason.

Anxiety, especially excessive anxiety that leads to panic attacks, is most often due to a response to a problem or situation rather than the actual problem or situation. Often it is not even the situation at all, but a perception of it or an imagined scenario.

For those people who have panic attacks though it seems all too real. It can feel as if they are choking and it is extremely debilitating.

It’s not surprising then to learn that the word “anxiety” derives from a Latin word meaning “to choke”. Many people who have panic attacks say it feels as if they cannot get their breath, that they cannot swallow and they feel as if they are going to die.

Panic attack symptoms

A panic attack most frequently lasts from around five minutes up to half an hour. They are often extremely frightening, but they very rarely cause any physical harm. 

Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Perspiration. 
  • Chest tightness.
  • Choking feeling.
  • Shaking and trembling.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Intense anxiety and fear.
  • Faintness or feeling light-headed.
  • Nausea or actually being sick.
  • A sense of disorder, that everything is out of control.
  • Breathing much quicker than usual or breathlessness.
  • Tingling sensations especially in the fingertips or lips.


Why people get panic attacks

Anxiety is a feeling of extreme apprehension about anything with an uncertain outcome. Some therapists describe anxiety (that leads to panic attacks) as a disease – that someone suffering from anxiety is “dis-at-ease”.

Panic disorder is one of the many types of anxiety disorder. It is a mental, emotional and physical sense of being overwhelmed.

Our minds are powerfully creative. This can be to create an amazing invention such as the lightbulb.

But they can also think in a way that makes for catastrophic projection. That is they can take us to the worst-case scenario.

It can feel so real that we start to have physical symptoms. For instance, if someone is scared to fly they can be sitting in their kitchen and imagine they are on a plane… and they will start upping adrenaline, sweating and feeling as if they can’t catch their breath properly.

A full-blown panic attack can follow. This is even though they are miles away from an airport and not even booked to fly anywhere.

Feeling overwhelmed in this way is a huge psychological condition. As in the placebo or nocebo effects, we can think ourselves well or unwell.

Even with this knowledge it’s often extremely difficult for someone to stop thinking in the manner they do. This is frequently because it’s the way they have learned to think during childhood.

Or sometimes it’s due to life events shaping someone’s perception of what they think is most likely to happen. This could be because of a serious illness or bereavement of a loved one or another traumatic event.

Either way, it is strongly to do with how someone is thinking and then those thoughts creating feelings and physical symptoms.

It’s not that anyone wants to have a panic attack. But often it is their thought patterns that lead to one.

As renowned psychologist Albert Ellis (1913–2007) said: “Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of them.

“If human emotions largely result from thinking, then one may appreciably control one’s feelings by controlling one’s thoughts – or by changing the internalized sentences, or self-talk, with which one largely created the feeling in the first place.” 

Ellis is regarded as developing the first form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). He called his theory rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) – and it’s from REBT that CBT developed a decade later in the 1960s.

What helps with anxiety?

CBT is proven to be one of the most successful treatments for anxiety and panic disorder. Thankfully there are several other things that anyone can do to help with anxiety.

These include trying to always focus on the positive rather than the negative. This may mean avoiding or cutting down on social media and watching the news.

Realize that most things people get anxious about never actually happen. There’s a phrase popular in recovery circles that can help us remember this: “I’ve lived through loads of terrible things – and one of them even happened!”

Spending some time with animals helps many people, even simply such as walking a dog or stroking a cat. As well, ensure to eat healthily, exercise at least five times a week for 30 minutes each time, get into the great outdoors, and learn to relax – particularly through breathing techniques, mindfulness, yoga and meditation

Other things that help people with anxiety are to watch comedy and relax by reading. Also to cut down or quit drinks containing caffeine, alcohol, any “recreational” drugs and stop smoking.

Try to live one day at a time and keep everything in the now. Keep connected to positive people in your life, and do not take on too much.

Ensure to get a decent night’s sleep every night. Make sure too you take some time out when needed. It’s one reason why staying here with us is so beneficial – combined with being able to talk to an understanding therapist.

Our experienced team can help you or someone you care about deal with anxiety and panic attacks. To find out more about our personalized treatment options, get in touch with us today.

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