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What is a panic attack?

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Have you ever felt like the walls were closing in on you? Like your heart was pounding and your breathing was accelerated without any real reason? You may be experiencing a panic attack. 

Panic attacks happen when a person feels overwhelmed with intense anxiety and fear, and can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, a rapid heart rate, trembling, and shortness of breath. They can be terrifying and leave the person feeling completely out of control. Did you know that panic attacks are surprisingly common? Each year around 2-3% of the population will experience a panic attack and around 22% of people will experience one in their lifetime. But it’s important to remember that panic attacks are also treatable.  

What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack? 

If you're wondering what a panic attack is, it's an incredibly frightening experience that can have both physical and psychological symptoms. The symptoms may vary from person to person, but they generally include some or all of the following:

  • Rapid heart rate 

  • Difficulty breathing or feeling of smothering 

  • Chest pain or discomfort 

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 

  • Feeling of detachment from oneself or their surroundings 

  • Sweating 

  • Trembling and shaking 

  • Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy. 

These symptoms usually begin abruptly and without warning, and can peak in just a few minutes. Once the attack has reached its peak intensity, it typically subsides over the course of 10 minutes or longer. Some people may experience after effects, such as fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating. 

What Causes Panic Attacks and Anxiety? 

At some point in our lives, we may all feel anxious. Whether it's before an important event or due to a traumatic experience, feeling anxious can be a normal reaction. But when this sensation intensifies to an extreme level to the point of causing overwhelm or fear—that's when a panic attack can occur. 

But what exactly causes these episodes? There can be many reasons you experience a panic attack, from stressful life events, hormonal changes, stimulants such as caffeine even some medications or drugs as some examples. It's important to note that everyone is different and that what causes a panic attack in one person may not necessarily affect another. Whatever the source of your anxiety may be, it's best to seek professional help if you experience any signs of a panic attack—such as difficulty breathing or chest pain—so you can find the right treatment that works best for you. 

Why are panic attacks so problematic 

Not only do panic attacks feel completely overwhelming and are be incredibly scary to experience but you may find yourself worrying about having a panic attack or changing your behavior to try and avoid them happening again. This can create more problems for you as you start to change your life more and more to avoid triggering an attack. This can lead to a vicious cycle, creating even more anxiety and if left unchecked you can end up in a place where panic attacks rule your life.  

How to overcome panic attacks 

There is no one-size fits all approach to overcoming panic attacks and you may need to try several approaches before you find something, or a combination of things that work for you.  The cognitive behavioural approach is a common and effective therapy tool that helps you to become more aware of your thinking patterns, and how they affect your behavior. It also helps you to identify any triggers, negative thought patterns, then replace them with more positive ones. This can help you control anxiety levels and reduce the frequency of your panic attacks, but very often just talking about your attacks in detail with someone can be incredibly useful. Mindfulness, breathing techniques and relaxation techniques can help reduce stress levels and anxiety – both of which can trigger a panic attack. Regular physical activity releases endorphins that help to reduce stress levels and lift your mood – both things that can help prevent panic attacks from occurring in the first place. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day or even better, spread out exercises throughout the whole day – even 10-minute workouts can make a difference! 


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