Panic Attacks | Center for Growth Therapy

Panic Attacks

Alex , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

Panic Attack Therapy in Philadelphia, Mechanicsville, Santa Fe, Ocean City - What are panic attacks? Ever feel like you suddenly can’t catch your breath? Your heart is pounding in your chest, and yet you are sitting still. Perspiration is forming on your forehead, and you feel like you are going to die. You may be experiencing a panic attack.

What are Panic Attacks: panic Attacks typically come on suddenly and are accompanied by intense fear or anxiety. These panic attacks can occur frequently or infrequently and are always accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms plus others; heart palpitations, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, blurred vision, dizziness, racing thoughts, shaking, and feelings of intense doom.

Some researchers believe that “something” triggers the body’s natural “fight-or-flight response,” sending the body signals of distress. These signals send the body into high overdrive or reaction, and therefore create a myriad of physical symptoms such as; facial flushing, hot flashes, nausea, chills, chest pain, abdominal cramping, faintness, tightness in throat, sensation of a lump in the throat, and difficulty swallowing. Panic Attacks can wake you suddenly from a sound sleep, and make you feel like you are out of control.

The panic attack often begins suddenly without obvious triggers, and typically peaks within ten minutes, although it may last for hours, and rarely an entire day. The sufferer often feels washed out once the attack subsides. A Panic Attack may happen when you’re alone, with others, driving/riding in car, in public, or in any situation.

People that have Panic Attacks may experience other co-existing mental health conditions such as; depression, agoraphobia (fear of public places), and fear in social situations (social phobia). Having Panic Attacks places the sufferer at risk for not only depression, but suicide, alcohol and/or drug abuse as well.

If you believe you may be experiencing panic attacks it is imperative that you seek medical therapeutic intervention. Panic Attacks can interfere with living and can have a severe impact on your life, but the condition can be treated.

It is important to always check with your doctor initially and/or if other symptoms arise, as there are disorders/conditions that can mimic a panic attack. An impending heart attack may cause perfuse perspiration, pain or tightness in the chest, and nausea. An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) may cause shaking or trembling, racing heart, and anxiety. Certain drug withdrawals may cause any of the aforementioned symptoms, depending on the type of drug and the systemic impact it has on your body.

Working from Panic to Peace: once medical concerns have been ruled out, you can now focus on the fact that your Panic Attacks are an emotional / psychological issue. What this means is, you know there is nothing really physically wrong, and you can now create an internal awareness and understanding that nothing bad is going to happen.

You can learn to manage and possibly eradicate your panic with assistance of a professional and your own self developed management techniques.

Developing a plan of action: first learn to identify your feelings. When something begins to make you feel uncomfortable or anxious, ask yourself, “what is it that I am feeling right now, why am I feeling this way, what am I thinking about?” This type of self questioning will increase your awareness of possible triggers, and will assist you in planning your personal intervention techniques.

For example, you may suddenly feel very restless or scared when you’re in a crowd, your heart may be pounding or you feel tightness in your chest. You may have difficulty swallowing, and the more you try to swallow the greater the difficulty. These can all be symptoms of panic.

When Panic Happens when you begin to have some of these experiences, remind yourself to look around and see if there is something in your environment that may be triggering your anxiety, for example, did you see someone or something that brought back a memory or experience? Are you uncomfortable in crowds? What emotions are you actually feeling-sadness, uncertainty, and why? The key is FOCUS. At this point you are changing your thought process in a way to attempt to work through the panic. By thinking about what is going on around you and on the inside, you are creating a focus and attempting to acknowledge your emotions and feelings, so that you can plan for future interventions. If you know that a certain store, seems to cause you to panic, then perhaps with the support of a therapist or good friend, you can begin to make short visits. Maybe initially you may walk in and out, and then gradually increase your time in the store. Make sure you pride yourself on your accomplishments, no matter how minimal they may seem. You are making steps to improve your life, and that is all that matters.

Perhaps you wake up suddenly in the early morning, with an attack. Startled from a sound sleep, this can exacerbate the feelings of panic and accompanying symptoms. You want to run, but where? Look around and breathe slowly. Dangle your feet off the side of the bed to increase blood flow. Focus on an object in the room and repeat to yourself as you breathe in and out slowly, a phrase or word that with help you calm, for example “peace.” See the word as you breathe in and out; concentrate on your breathing, spell the word, and think of your body and how it can feel the word “peace”-calm and relaxed.

Keep a journal of your experiences, pay attention to where you are, what may be happening around you, what feelings you have, and the symptoms you experience. Most of all, try to identify what you are thinking about, as often the panic begins with a thought and escalates to physical symptoms.

Remind yourself there is nothing physically wrong with you. You are having a Panic Attack and it will pass.

People experience varying levels of anxiety and sometimes panic throughout their life times. It does not mean they are crazy. It does mean that they may have some things going on in their lives and with their emotions, which have run amuck. Just like people experience illnesses, euphoria, and other emotions differently, this is true with panic conditions. Some people may experience a mild “fight or flight response,” while other experience it with great intensity. Many factors play into daily emotions, feelings, and reactions-state of mind, stressors, condition of body, medications, etc. You can learn to help yourself and you WILL get through it.

Those who suffer Panic Attacks often begin to feel badly about themselves. Sufferers often may think “this should not be happening to me, I am smarter than this to allow something so stupid to overcome me, panic controls me and my life, I am worthless,” along with a whole list of other negative self talk and feelings that may perpetuate in the mind of those who experience panic attacks. This negative self talk does not help. Change it to positive self talk. “I am a good person. I am well. This will pass.”

For example an attack occurs while you’re on the subway, you can’t run, so now what? Stop, think, and focus.
Thought: “Where am I?”
Response: “I’m on the subway.”
You may think, “I can’t breathe.”
You need to think, “I can breathe. I’m taking a slow deep breath in and exhaling slowly.”

As you begin to control your breathing, try to focus on an object and really concentrate. “What is the object, what does it do? Where have I seen that before?” Or repeat your mediation or key phrase or word that you have established.


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