By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
Panic attacks affect over 5% of the population. They are extremely frightening and uncomfortable. The symptoms of a panic attack can be intense and unexplainable, occurring at a moment’s notice without any apparent trigger. Our natural fight or flight response has been tripped unnecessarily causing intense physical symptoms and accompanying catastrophic thoughts.
Panic Attack Symptoms
The following is a list of physical symptoms which can occur during a panic attack:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Shaky all over
- Tightness in chest
- Dizzy of lightheaded
- Blurred vision
- Fluttering or sinking feeling in the stomach
- Unable to think straight
- Feeling of floating away or becoming detached
These symptoms occur in absence of any danger. You can have panic attacks while sleeping causing you to wake up in a state of intense distress. Panic attacks at night and panic attacks while driving are not uncommon, you can be anywhere when they occur. Because these body sensations happen in absence of any apparent danger you attribute them to some unknown internal cause which creates the second set of symptoms – catastrophic thoughts. “I’m going to die. I’m going insane. I’m losing control. People will think I’m crazy. Something terrible will happen.”
Signs of a panic attack happen in a progression that begins with an initiating circumstance which is often unknown to you. Your body then experiences a slight increase in one or more of the physical symptoms listed above. Next, you begin to focus intensely on this symptom. This is the preliminary point at which a panic attack begins. Interpreting the physical symptom in a fearful or catastrophic way will trigger a physiological response known as “fight of flight” and now you are experiencing moderate panic. If you continue in this vicious cycle, focusing on the physical symptom and assigning corresponding catastrophic thoughts you have a full scale level 10 panic attack.
When panic attacks, implementing coping strategies can reduce the duration and intensity of the attack. With regular practice in using tools to manage the symptoms of severe anxiety you will successfully learn how to overcome panic attacks. For further information on coping strategies read the related articles: “How to Control Panic Attacks” and “How to Control Anxiety – A Tool Box For Managing Stress.”