During my recent research into Panic disorders, I came across an eye-opening statistic by the National Institute of Mental Health. It stated, “Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women as men.” It further went on to explain how panic attacks, a precursor to panic disorders, can begin to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood. As a result, I composed this blog post to answer some basic questions related to panic attacks, especially when someone should consider getting medical or mental health treatment.
What is a Panic Attack?
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) a panic attack is characterized by the abrupt presence of various symptoms which tend to build within a short time frame. A sense of imminent danger or impending doom, along with an urge to escape, can also be characteristic of a panic attack.
How Do I Know if I’m Having a Panic Attack?
Symptoms of a panic attack can cause somatic and/or cognitive reactions. Somatic reactions are generally physical symptoms that usually suggest a medical condition exists. Symptoms like palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, dizziness, etc. are a few examples of the symptoms an individual can experience while having a panic attack.
Cognitive reactions affect the way a person thinks. For example, an individual experiencing a panic attack will often report feeling like they are losing control, a fear of dying or a belief that something disastrous will happen. These reactions are typical of a panic attack especially when they occur in the absence of real danger.
When Should I Seek Treatment?
For some individuals, they may only experience a panic attack once. If, however, you notice you are having recurrent episodes of a panic attack and/or feelings of anxiety, you should definitely begin by contacting your physician. A medical evaluation can inform you whether there is a medical explanation for the symptoms you are experiencing.
Should your physician report no medical explanation, consulting with a mental health provider should then be considered. A mental health provider like a psychologist, social worker, counselor, etc., can help you identify what may be triggering the attacks and/or whether you have some unresolved or repressed issues that need to be addressed.
Overall, if you have experienced a couple of panic attacks in a relatively short time period, you should consult with your primary care physician and/or mental health care professional. Doing so may help prevent the attacks from turning into a disorder, which can affect your social and/or physical ability to function.
Do you have any thoughts or questions about panic attacks? Please post them below.
Many of my clients often ask, "What can I do to reduce my anxiety?" While my response often varies depending on an individual's specific situation, there are three core recommendations I often suggest that can help almost anyone.
1) Identify the Source of Your Stress - understanding who and/or what is causing your stress is the first step to reducing your anxiety. If you are able to identify what is causing your worry/anxiety, the next step is to ask yourself, "Is there anything I can do to change it?" Answering such a question can give you an opportunity to evaluate your situation and clarify any choices, if any, you may have.
2) Learn How To Manage - If you can reduce your anxiety, knowing how you can change it and taking action is important. Whether you are in the process of changing it or even if you are unable to make any changes, learning how to manage the anxiety is vital to maintaining your ability to continue functioning. Engaging in activities you find relaxing or finding an outlet for your worry may help release the negative emotions/symptoms associated with your situation. For some, going to the gym, knitting, watching a comedy, meditation, or simply a nice hot shower are a few of the activities they engage in so as to distract their mind and focus their thoughts on something enjoyable.
3). Try, Try and Try Again - learning what coping strategies are best for you is a trial and error process. What works best for one person, may not work well for you. I often encourage individuals to try various techniques until they find something that helps them relax. Of course, it is critical to first rule out any medical explanations for symptoms you may be experiencing like headaches, digestion issues, heart palpitations, etc. Also, if you are finding it difficult to reduce your anxiety on your own, it is important to understand the role therapy can play in helping you. In some cases, therapy can simply help individuals understand why they are stressed while for others it is a form of guidance that helps clarify what options are available.
I hope the tips discussed above can help you reduce your anxiety. Are there any other tips you would recommend to someone? Please share below.