Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experience at times. Panic is a word used to denote high levels of anxiety and a panic attack is a sudden surge of intense anxiety which is very frightening for the person who experiences it. If you‘re having a panic attack, you may experience unpleasant physical symptoms such as palpitations, a tight and painful chest, sweating, breathlessness or dizziness. It may look like it comes out from nowhere, without warning, making you feel powerless. Common thoughts when you are experiencing a panic attack is that that something bad is going to happen, for example, that you will lose control of yourself or that your life is in danger. Although these thoughts may seem realistic at that time, it’s important to remember that a panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s reaction to fear or stress and that it’s not really dangerous for your life.
A panic attack may involve the following symptoms;
- Rapid breathing / shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Blurred vision
- Numbness throughout the body
- Feeling hot / flushing
- Nausea and other gastrointestinal discomfort
- Muscle tension
- Fearing you are going to faint, lose control or die
- Depersonalization and derealization
Depersonalization occurs when one feels that their self is not real. People experiencing depersonalization may feel disconnected from their own self as though they are watching it act without having control over it. Derealization is the feeling of being disconnected from one’s environment or the feeling that the environment is unreal.
Panic attacks come fast and symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes. Most attacks last from 5 to 20 minutes.
During a panic attack, you may feel that a catastrophic event is imminent or that you will lose control and go mad. It is very important to remember that although you may really feel terrible, this is unlikely to happen. Physical symptoms such as dyspnea, is simply part of the panic experience. It is advisable however, to double check with your doctor that there are no physical causes for your symptoms.
Panic attacks are often associated with agoraphobia. This is because you may begin to associate specific places and situations with these crises and while trying to prevent the next panic attack, you may start avoiding places where you have experienced it in the past or places where it would be difficult /embarrassing to escape from.
First, it is important to remember that panic attacks occur very frequently in the general population. Studies show that 1.5% of the population may experience panic attacks .
There are three main factors that are usually involved in explaining the origination and maintenance of panic disorder; predisposing factors, precipitating factors and perpetuating factors.
An individual may have some degree of predisposition in developing an anxiety disorder, either because of their personality traits or the way they were brought up. Ηοwever, there must be a trigger for the actual problem to develop (precipitating factor). For example, a person who was brought up by her parents to believe that she should always be successful and have no failures, gets unexpectedly fired from work. Given the difficult economic situation, she remains unemployed for a longer period of time than she ever had before, which causes her great stress and anxiety. During this period, she experiences her first panic attack. One year later, she is again gainfully employed in a satisfying position but the panic attacks remain.
What may perpetuate the panic disorder is a specific way of thinking and misinterpreting bodily sensations as well as certain behaviors such as avoidance of the feared situation or safety seeking.
In cognitive behavioural therapy for panic disorder, we attempt a) to challenge the negative thinking patterns that may maintain anxiety and substitute them with new more helpful ones. We do so by analysing specific episodes of panic and by constructing a model of understanding the circle of your panic atacks (vicious circle model). b) to gradually expose you to the feared situation via conducting «behavioural experiments». Cognitive behavioural therapy is proven by a considerable amount of research to be the most effective approach in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
If you are experiencing panic attacks and would like to discuss how I could help you in more detail, please contact me to book an appointment at my Limassol Practice.