What they are, where panic attacks come from, and how to overcome them.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | October 25, 2021
Hi! In this post, I'm going to discuss panic attacks, the signs to look out for, your bodily response, and what you can do to get through one. I'll also tell you a little bit about how they're classified and how mental health professionals, like myself, diagnose and help treat someone who struggles with having panic attacks.
What is a panic attack?
For some, having a panic attack can be a one-time thing, and for others, it's something we experience on a regular basis that happens as a result of intense stress or pressure whether it's physical, psychological, or emotional or a combination of the three. Panic attacks are not uncommon. In fact, research has shown that 11% of Americans experience a panic attack annually, and they're something that can happen to anyone. However, there are some factors that make you more susceptible to having panic attacks.
Yes, panic attacks can happen at any age, but they're more common to happen to individuals in their late teens and early twenties, and it's more common for women to suffer from panic disorders than men.
Panic attack causes and symptoms
So, you might be wondering, what causes panic attacks, and how would I know if I've experienced one because I'm pretty sure that I have?
To start, it's not just any one factor that determines whether you will have a panic disorder or attack. That's why clinicians, like myself, do what we call a Bio-Psycho-Social, which is a way of saying that we're going to ask you some personal questions to get a more complete picture of your life experiences, genetic history, social relationships, and overall environment that could be contributing to your anxiety. Because that's what panic attacks are: they're an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or stress you might experience before taking an exam or giving a public speech.
Some of the typical symptoms an individual experiencing panic attacks might feel include:
- Feeling like you're having a heart attack
- Trouble breathing
- Fear that you might die
- Intense sweating
- Trembling and shaking
For example, maybe one or both of your parents has an anxiety disorder that they've been diagnosed with, which would illustrate there's a genetic component, or that there are other related mental health concerns going on in your family that may or may not have been addressed, which also includes things like addiction and substance-use (which also hit on the psychological and social components of our questions).
Let's say that you make an appointment, you come to speak to me or any other therapist, and you say, "Hey! I think I'm having panic attacks. Can you diagnose me?" Well, here's the thing, yes, while I do diagnose, panic attacks aren't something that I or any other therapist would diagnose during our session while talking about it, but it's something that we would explore together. Things that I or another therapist would pay attention to would be things like:
- Constantly worrying about having another panic attack and what would happen in the event that you had another one
- Avoiding the people, places, or things you were involved in when you had your last panic attack
- Allowing your anxiety to control how you show up in your life in general
Panic attack treatments
Thankfully, panic attacks and other anxiety-related disorders are highly treatable and respond well to things like psychotherapy and medication as well as other holistic approaches including cutting out caffeine, increasing exercise, and improving your diet and sleep, which have all been shown to decrease anxiety-related symptoms.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found the content helpful and informative. Remember, the content addressed in this article is educational in nature and is not meant to substitute for individualized psychotherapy. If you need mental health assistance — whether to address a current issue or to create a more prosperous, fulfilling life — visit the link below and schedule an initial consultation.