Panic attacks are terrifying, debilitating, and treatable. Panic attacks give you the sudden and overwhelming feeling that you are about to die, go crazy, faint, or just plain “lose it.” They can come on at expected times, such as when you’re walking into a large store like Wal-Mart, or they can appear “out of the blue,” such as waking up in a panic from a sound sleep. Whatever the type, it’s easy to let panic attacks start to take over your life.
Panic attack treatment often depends on the types of panic attacks you are experiencing and why. Some people experience panic attacks as a part of another mental health condition. A few of the mental health conditions commonly associated with panic attacks include PTSD, OCD, General Anxiety, and Specific Phobias. For others, panic attacks are a condition all on their own. In these cases, after experiencing an unexpected panic attack, you may become afraid of having another panic attack and begin to avoid certain activities or places out of fear that they will trigger another panic attack. This condition is known as Panic Disorder and responds well to cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you are experiencing Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder, know that you’re not alone and it’s not hopeless. We offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapeutic treatment for panic that has been proven effective for decades in helping individuals overcome their fear of panic. CBT is one of the highest ranked recommended treatments for Panic Disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a structured and proven effective method for treating panic attacks. For Panic Disorder, we use a treatment protocol developed by Dr. David Barlow and Michelle Craske, two of the foremost experts in the field of anxiety. The treatment protocol is a part of the well respected series, Treatments That Work. You can find more information on the Treatments That Work series here.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, has been shown to be effective in helping you learn to effective ways to manage symptoms of panic and panic attacks, overcome your fear of panicking, and stop the avoidance that keeps you stuck.
This panic attack treatment is broken down into three phases and provides a very structured course for therapy. The first phase involves educating yourself to correct misconceptions about panic. This phase includes understanding how and why panic attacks are happening to you, understanding the cycle of panic and avoidance, and learning to take a step back and observe your panic attacks like a scientist.
The second phase begins with learning breathing skills and thinking skills. Learning correct breathing skills can help you begin to stop your anxiety from escalating to full blown panic, give you back your ability to think rationally (which goes out the window during panic), and allow your body to relax. The thinking skills will help you learn to challenge the anxious thoughts that feed your feelings of terror during a panic attack (such as “I’m about to have a heart attack!”). Together, we will practice these techniques until they become second nature to you.
The third phase of treatment is all about training your body to stop panicking. In this phase, we will identify all the different places, activities, and situations you’ve been avoiding out of fear that they will trigger a panic attack. Together, we will come up with a plan for you to get these things back, starting with the easiest ones first. As we go through the list, you can gain confidence each time you tackle one, setting you up to cope better and feel less anxious as you move on to the next. We continue down this path until you feel confident in your ability to go where you want and do what you want without worrying that panic will stop you.
This therapy can be incredibly powerful as a means of helping you learn to overcome panic attacks, to cope with your anxiety instead of fearing it, and get back to living your life.
During a panic attack, you experience at least 4 of the following symptoms. What you may not know is that each of these symptoms serves a biological purpose in helping us to survive in the event of an actual life-threatening situation.
|What You Feel||Why It Happens|
|Difficulty breathing||Breathing switches from slow and relaxed breathing to very rapid breathing in order to increase the amount of oxygen flowing through your body so that you can function better to fight off a threat.|
|Increased heart rate||Heart rate spikes to increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles so that you can fight off the predator or run away quickly.|
|Tightness in the chest||You naturally feel tightness in your chest caused by your faster breathing, quicker heart rate, and tensed torso muscles so that you can be ready to spring into action.|
|Dizziness||You will naturally begin to feel dizzy as a result of over-breathing and your body’s redirection of blood flow in preparation for the “fight or flight.”|
|Shaking||Your body can begin to tremble as your muscles become hyper tensed and ready to act.|
|Sweating||You begin to sweat as your body’s natural way to cool down during a fight or a run. The sweating also plays a part in being able to slip away from predators or allow blows in a fight to slide off you more easily.|
|Difficulty swallowing or a sensation of choking||Your mouth naturally dries up as your body redirects its energy to other areas that are more important during a survival scenario.|
|Upset stomach||Your body naturally diverts energy and blood flow away from non-essential areas like digestion that become unimportant when trying to fight off a predator or run away.|
|Feeling surreal or detached from the present moment||Your mind naturally allows you to detach from frightening or traumatic moments to allow you a “safe distance” from any trauma that might occur so that your emotional experience of fear is lessened and so are your memories of the event.|
|Numbness and tingling in the hands||As your heart rate increases blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and other parts of the body that are vital for fighting or running away, it decreases blood flow to non-essential parts of the body such as your skin and smaller extremities.|
|Fluctuating sense of body temperature||As your body experiences all these physiological changes at once, it begins to feel hot. As a result, you begin to sweat as your body’s natural way of trying to regulate your body temperate and cool you down.|
|Fear of losing control, going crazy, or imminent death||These thoughts occur as your mind naturally searches for an explanation for the threat and physical reactions you’re experiencing|
As you can see, it makes sense for your body to have these reactions when there is an actual threat to your safety. The trouble with panic attacks is that these reactions occur even when you are perfectly safe – kind of like a false alarm. With panic attack treatment, you can learn more about why these things happen, how to cope with panic, and how to stop the panic cycle from continuing!
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but most people who experience panic attacks find they have a lot of triggers in common. Here is a list of some of the most common places and activities that trigger feelings of panic for individuals with panic disorder. If you have already started avoiding many of these, it’s probably time to consider panic attack treatment – you don’t have to live this way.