Panic Attacks…When Fear Takes Over !
Panic Attacks – when fear takes over
Having a panic attack is probably one of the most terrifying feelings you can go through.
You most likely experience feelings of extreme anxiety or fear. A panic attack is marked by a way of thinking called catastrophic thinking, accompanied with highly uncomfortable feelings and physical sensations. With the fear of the next panic attack ever present, fear of fear becomes the norm, and avoidant behaviour can seem like the best way to cope
Some of the most common thoughts associated with full blown panic are: ‘I‘m going to lose control‘, ‘I’m having a heart attack‘, ‘I’m going mad‘, ‘I‘m going to suffocate‘, ‘I’m going to collapse‘, ‘I’m going to die’.
Feelings and Physical Sensations
Most people experience some of the following highly uncomfortable sensations and feelings during a panic attack: Palpitations; pounding heart; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath or smothering; feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort; nausea or abdominal distress; feeling dizzy, unsteady, light headed or faint; feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself; fear of losing control or going crazy; fear of dying; numbness or tingling sensations, and chills or hot flushes.
Fear of the next panic attack can lead to avoiding situations where you may have panicked before. Places like supermarkets, social gatherings, busy streets, the work place, meetings, airports, bus/train/tram stations, among others, are often avoided.
When avoidant behaviour becomes excessive the sufferer may take radical measures to avoid places and situations they fear. In some cases they become unable to leave the safety of their own home.
How can I stop a Panic Attack ?
There are a number of strategies and tools we can explore together to help you to find relief from feelings of intense Anxiety and Panic:
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy):
Using CBT, a therapist can help you to understand your thinking patterns (catastrophic thinking), and how that impacts your feelings (feelings and physical sensations), and your behaviour (avoidant behaviour). CBT challenges the truth of catastrophic thinking. It can support you to reduce and eradicate your symptoms of Panic while revisiting the situations that you fear. It is an evidence based therapy that generally works in the present or the ‘here and now‘. CBT is supported by numerous studies to be effective in most cases in the treatment of anxiety including panic attacks.
Psychotherapy works with the underlying causes that may be contributing to your panic and anxiety. You may need to explore your past relationships, early personal difficulties and childhood development. Feelings such as anger, shame or low self esteem may have been hidden for some time and can contribute to your anxiety and fear. A good image for Psychotherapy is an Iceberg which floats on the surface of the water. We actually only see one third of the iceberg on the surface but two thirds of it is hidden under the water. In Psychotherapy we gently and respectfully explore the part under the surface.
Breath / Muscle relaxation and Mindfulness:
In combination with CBT and/or Psychotherapy, Relaxation techniques and Mindfulness can be incorporated. The breath is portable, private and can be an effective tool to support the reduction of anxiety and fear which always precedes a panic attack. It can be helpful to know that, biologically, panic is an intense rush of the hormone adrenaline which is engaged by the body in situations of intense danger. With panic however, no real danger exists. This adrenaline rush readies the body for fight, flight or freeze, an evolutionary adaptation that supports the body to react to danger fast. Bringing mindful awareness to the emotional intensity of the thought process can build space around the experience, thus creating an inner relationship with those feelings which is less threatening.