Understanding Panic Attacks

What are Panic Attacks?

When we are in immediate danger our body goes into “fight or flight mode” as a form of defence.  This causes our body to release adrenaline, which in turn, raises our blood pressure and increases our heartbeat and breathing, to enable us to fight back or escape. 

However when we have a panic attack our body produces this fight or flight response when there is no obvious danger.  This can be very distressing for people, and they can often describe having a panic attack as feeling like they are dying or losing their mind.  The duration and intensity of panic attacks can vary from person to person.    

Whilst it can be scary it’s important to remember that panic attacks are not putting you in any physical danger.  They can last between five and twenty minutes but generally start to reduce in intensity after ten minutes, although people have reported them lasting as long as an hour. 

If it lasts for longer than this or you have frequent or multiple attacks you may be suffering from panic disorder which is a type of anxiety disorder.   

Physical Symptoms

·     Sweating or hot flushes

·     Shaking or trembling limbs

·     Feeling disconnected from yourself and reality

·     Nausea

·     A feeling of dread or impending doom

·     Feeling your stomach flip or churn

·     Fearing your losing control

·     Feeling faint, dizzy or light headed

·     Chest pains or tightness in the chest

·     Your heart racing or hearing it beating in your ears

·     Chills

·     Feeling like you are going mad

·     Ringing in your ears

·     Dry mouth

·     Feeling you need to go to the toilet

·     Tingling in your fingertips

·     Fearing you’re going to die

Psychological Symptoms

·     Anxiety

·     Panic

·     Fear

·     Stress


Panic attacks can be caused by underling conditions such as, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), GAD (general anxiety disorder) or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). 

Lifestyle choices like recreational drugs or alcohol can also contribute as can your personality if you are more sensitive to stressful situations.

Self Help

There are plenty of organisations you can find on-line who will provide you with support and advice for panic attacks and panic disorder, including local support groups. 

Things like breathing exercises will not only help you with stress and anxiety levels but can also help when you are actually having an attack.  Mindfulness and physical exercise can help improve your mood, and distraction techniques are also helpful.  Reducing your intake of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol should also help as they can make your panic attacks worse. 

Professional Help

If you are still struggling you should contact your doctor who can prescribe you with medication such as beta-blockers, anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants.  They can also refer you for talking therapies like psychotherapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which can help you to discover and change any negative thinking or behaviours.  Exposure therapy can also help you to face and overcome any fears that may be the cause of any underlying anxieties.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link.

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