Panic Attacks

Introduction

A panic attack is where your body is put into a state of alert preparing you for “fight or flight”.

This is a normal human response to danger in order to protect yourself from harm. However, this response is often unwanted and unnecessary and can make situations more stressful and upsetting.

Many people do not know what triggers their panic attacks, whilst others will experience a panic attack in specific situations. Often people fear the panic attack itself and find that they are getting anxious about having one.

Panic attacks can often make us feel helpless, fearful and can cause us to lose our confidence.  This in turn makes the panic even worse.

Panic attacks generally come with physical and psychological symptoms.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Shaking
  • Nervous twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling worried, anxious, tense
  • Intrusive and unwanted thoughts
  • Helplessness
  • Feeling a lack of control
  • Feeling rushed and overwhelmed
  • Fear of dying

Causes of Panic Attacks

According to Anxiety UK, more than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some point in their life.

We do not know what causes panic attacks but there are factors that play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Major stress
  • Temperament that might be more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions
  • Changes in the way the brain functions

Treatments for Panic Attacks

Treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of the panic attacks so they have less impact on daily life. Psychological therapy is an effective first choice, your therapist will work with you to help you understand the panic attacks and teach you coping strategies.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you to learn the panic attacks are not dangerous and help you overcome fears of situations you have previously avoided. You may need to see your therapist form time to time to ensure your panic attacks remain under control or to treat recurrences.

Medication for Panic Attacks

Medication can help reduce symptoms associated with panic attacks but won’t resolve the problem. If medication is prescribed, it is likely to be antidepressants and is prescribed alongside psychological therapy. The medication needs to be taken continuously and not just when you are experiencing a panic attack. Your consultant will discuss a treatment plan with you and advise if medication is appropriate.

Therapy Approach for Panic Attacks

As well as psychological intervention there are many things that you can do to help:

  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine as these can all provoke panic attacks in people that are susceptible
  • Hyperventilation brings on many sensations that are experienced during a panic attack such as feeling light headed and tightness in the chest. Learning to control your breathing means you can calm yourself when you start to feel anxious
  • Practicing relaxation techniques generates the opposite feelings to the stress we feel when experiencing a panic attack
  • Exercising regularly is a natural way to relieve anxiety

Outcomes

For many people panic attacks are controlled by the use of psychological intervention and practicing coping methods as well as the self help techniques. Some patients will be diagnosed with panic disorder, this is when the attacks are very frequent.

Find a clinician for help with panic attacks

In order to see one of our clinicians, patients first need to obtain a GP referral.

Our Clinicians