What Are Panic Attacks?

If you have ever had a panic attack, you know that this can be one of the scariest experiences there is, especially when you don't know what it is.

Your heart starts to pound, you feel like you can't breath, you feel nauseous or dizzy, and you're certain you're losing control.

You might even have gone to the emergency room, sometimes repeatedly, afraid you're having a heart attack, aneurysm, or other life-threatening emergency. But they don't find anything physically wrong.

You're having a panic attack.

The DSM-5 defines panic attacks as experiences characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • A feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • Chills or hot flushes

The experience of fewer than four of these symptoms may be described as a limited-symptom panic attack, or more colloquially, an anxiety attack.

If you've had panic attack, chances are you might start to live in fear that it will happen again. The experience of the attacks, coupled with the fear about them (which may also lead to a restriction or avoidance of everyday activities) can result in a diagnosis of panic disorder.

But you don't have to live your life in fear.

Therapy for Panic Attacks:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for panic attacks and panic disorder. Gatewell's therapists are trained, and have extensive experience, in CBT, which helps you manage symptoms of panic and panic disorder. CBT involves challenging your ideas about the physical symptoms occurring with the attacks and working on tolerating these symptoms without avoiding the situations that cause them. Your therapist might help you gradually work to overcome any avoidance that has developed. Treatment can also incorporate elements from DBT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, both of which can help with coping with symptoms of panic and reducing the tendency to avoid.

Counseling for panic will help you learn to cope with the attacks; the more confident you are in coping with the attacks, the less you will fear them.

The less you fear them, the less control they'll have over you.