A panic attack – also called an anxiety attack – is a short period of intense anxiety or fear that can last from just a few minutes to half an hour.
Panic attacks are very common in Australia where over a third of all people will experience at least one in their lifetime. A panic attack is caused when the ‘flight-or-fight’ response is activated inappropriately. Often, no immediate danger is present. The brain floods with chemicals, including adrenaline, which trigger physical symptoms.
When a person has a panic attack, they may experience the following physical symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Racing heartbeat or chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or faintness
- Muscle tension
The psychological symptoms of a panic attack are:
- Overwhelming feelings of fear
- Anxious and irrational thinking
- A strong feeling of dread or danger
- Feelings of unreality or detachment
- Fear of going mad
- Fear of losing control
Panic attacks may occur frequently and sometimes occur for no apparent reason. It may take several hours to recover from a panic attack emotionally as well as physically. Often a person suffering from panic attacks will change their behaviour to avoid the risk of experiencing an attack. Avoidance behaviour can begin to control a person’s life and be distressing and disabling to the sufferer. Untreated, panic attacks may occur more frequently and increase in duration.
If you are experiencing panic attacks, it is important to seek treatment. A range of options can help including medical (drug) and psychological treatments including cognitive behavioural therapy, stress management, relaxation and mindfulness techniques. A psychologist can help you learn to manage your panic attacks today.