What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an intense period of physical and mental fear. An attack may occur in reaction to an event, but often there is no clear cause for their onset. Panic attacks don’t tend to last beyond thirty minutes, but depending on the situation, they can go on for longer. They can be one-off or regularly (and if so would be considered panic disorder).
Panic attacks are also known as our bodies “flight or fight” response. This is where in reaction to a threat, our bodies prepare by taking in more oxygen and releasing more hormones, such as adrenalin. Thousands of years ago, human beings needed this reaction to deal with the harsh conditions of life. In the world we live in today, we don’t need to fight for our food or run from wildlife on a daily basis, yet we still have this natural response. However, when we are generally anxious or stressed in life, the flight or fight response can easily be triggered.
What are the symptoms?
In terms of psychological symptoms, a person who is experiencing a panic attack will feel very scared and alone, as if they are detached from reality. The physical side effects of a panic attack can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and trembling. The physical feeling associated with panic attacks are real and can make the sufferer believe something bad is happening to them like they are having a heart attack. However, panic attacks are not dangerous, and hospital assistance is not usually necessary.
Concentrating on taking deep breaths can help to ease the symptoms.
What are the causes?
The exact causes for panic attacks remain unclear. However, there are some common factors that might explain why someone is suffering from panic attacks. These include:
- unfortunate life experiences (e.g. a car crash);
- stressful events (e.g. losing work);
- genetics; and
- medical conditions.
How can panic attacks be treated?
If panic attacks persist, a doctor will, in the first instance, aim to identify if there are any underlying medical condition that could be causing the panic attacks.
If it is thought the cause is psychological, a doctor will likely recommend anxiety therapy. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapist can help you to challenge and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.
As you can see, there is a lot to know about panic attacks. If you suffer from this condition or know someone who does, it is important to take it seriously. Then you can start taking steps to prevent them from having a long-term impact on your life.