Panic attacks, sometimes referred to as anxiety attacks, are characterised by sudden, unexpected bouts of acute and debilitating anxiety, which are often accompanied by distressing physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can be so severe, that it is not uncommon for first time sufferers to believe that they are experiencing a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Over time, panic attacks can become more frequent, and the fear of suffering from a panic attack becomes embedded, resulting in what can feel like a ‘vicious circle’.
Panic attacks are overwhelming and can be very frightening, resulting in intense worry.
A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming physical sensations, such as:
• a pounding heartbeat
• feeling faint
• chest pains
• feeling unable to breathe
• shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly
• feeling like you’re not connected to your body
This can be very frightening, especially if you have not had a panic attack before.
Counselling is an opportunity to firstly talk about the panic attacks, when or how they are triggered. It can be quite a disassociating experience and counselling can put it into a context and make it more manageable. Knowing that it will pass is key. When we are unfamiliar with panic attacks it can feel like it is endless and will never stop.
We can look at ways to manage the panic attacks and anxiety, finding ways of self care:
• Take time to breathe
• Shifting your focus
• Listen to music
• Physical exercise
• Keeping a diary of positive options to do in that moment, like going for a walk.
• Changing the environment – moving from one room to another, going outside.