What is a Panic Attack ?

What is a Panic Attack ?
By Negar Khaefi, LMFT


A panic attack is defined as an identifiable period of time in which there is a sudden surge of terror and apprehension. Panic attacks are often associated with a feeling of impending doom or catastrophe. During an attack an individual may experience any of the following symptoms:

• Heart palpitations
• Choking or feeling of suffocation
• Chest discomfort
• Sensations of shortness of breath or suffocation
• Fear of “going insane”, losing control, or being trapped.
• Sweating
• Numbness or tingling sensations
• Chills or hot flushes
• Nausea or abdominal distress
• Feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
• Trembling
• Fear of death, stroke or heart attack

These symptoms may last anywhere from five minutes to several hours. Panic attacks are very common, and are associated with periods of high stress. They often accompany other psychological disorders such as Anxiety Disorders, Agoraphobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Phobia, Depression, Mania, and Substance Abuse.

Many individuals who experience panic attacks are fearful of having them in front of others. Fear of an embarrassing event occurring leads to social isolation. Basic functions of daily life may become compromised due to fear of attacks such as driving a car, going to social events, or being in a public place of any kind. Panic attacks can, therefore, become debilitating.

How are panic attacks treated?

Fortunately, most of the time, Panic Attacks are highly treatable. The sooner you tackle them, the better, and you need not suffer for long.

The first step is to visit a medical doctor in order to make sure what you are experiencing is not caused by a medical issue. Then we can begin to know your symptoms for what they are: a panic attack, and demystify what you are experiencing. You will start to understand that your body is trying to tell you something about your emotional experiences that you yourself may not be aware of. Panic attacks can be quite frightening, feel like they come out of nowhere and be confusing to you.

The second step is to identify what is triggering your attacks, where and when the attacks seem to happen most, and what might be happening to you when you experience them. Some of the triggers you might already be aware of some of them may be out of your awareness. Our goal is to be able to identify symptoms, identify when an attack is happening, to learn techniques for managing panic attacks and to prevent the attack.

The third step is understanding the underlying issues causing your panic attacks. As a collaborative therapist/client team we explore and resolve the possible relationship, family, work/career issues, trauma and other concerns that lay at the root of panic attacks.

What you will find is the work flows in and out of the three steps: identifying the symptoms, learning new techniques for managing the anxiety, and finding the underlying issues.

I Specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression. Experienced in a variety of frameworks including couples, families, group and individual, I take a “whatever is needed” approach to help you attain some measure of immediate relief from attacks, and then work toward the ultimate goal: a sense of peace and harmony in your life.

Return to Experts Advice from a panic attack

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