A panic attack is sudden feelings of overwhelming panic and fear.(1) It can last up to a few minutes and include various symptoms such as palpitations, shaking, shortness of breath, and dizziness. The symptoms can be interpreted as a heart attack, going “crazy’ or dying, which causes further anxiety and panic. They reach a peak generally at around 10 minutes, but can last around 30 minutes
Up to 40% of Australians experience a panic attack at some time in their life. It is rare in older adults and children, and slightly more common in women. (2) Panic attacks can occur multiple times per day, and even when people are asleep (in this case waking them up).
Panic disorder is the term used to describe when panic attacks are recurrent and disabling. Around 5% of Australians experience panic disorder in their lifetime, with 2.6 per cent experiencing panic disorder over a 12-month period. (2)
People with panic disorder can have:
- The presence of recurring and unexpected (‘out of the blue’) panic attacks.
- Worry for at least a month after having a panic attack that they will have another one.
- Worry that the panic attack is a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem.
- Significant changes in behaviour that relate to the panic attacks (such as avoiding activities like exercise because it increases the heart rate).
What’s the cause of panic attacks / panic disorder?
There is no single cause for panic disorder. A number of factors are usually involved, including:
- Family history – There tends to be a family history of anxiety disorders or depressive conditions, and some studies suggest a genetic component.
- Biological factors – Some medical conditions (cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthyroidism, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and irritable bowel syndrome) are associated with panic disorder.
- Negative experiences – Extremely stressful life experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse, redundancy or bereavement, have been linked to panic attacks.
- Periods of ongoing, unrelenting stress – these are also a risk factor.(2)
What are the symptoms?
Some of the common signs and symptoms of a panic attack include:
- a sense of overwhelming panic or fear
- the thought that you are dying, choking, ‘losing control’ or ‘going mad’
- increased heart rate
- difficulty breathing (feeling that there is not enough air)
- feeling choked
- excessive perspiration
- shaking and trembling
- dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint
- numbness or tingling
- pain in the stomach or ‘butterflies’ in stomach
- feeling of being detached from reality
- hot or cold flush
Treatment can be very effective in reducing the number and severity of panic attacks in most people.
Treatment is generally by psychological methods and / or medication.
Psychological treatment can help you learn to control anxiety, and reduce irrational worries. It can also give you tools to use when a panic attack is starting, so that you can bring it under control.
Hypnotherapy, a form of psychological treatment, can assist by identifying the sources of the anxiety and stress, helping the subconscious mind to react differently to the triggers, and thus helping to counteract the causes of anxiety and stress, lowering the frequency of panic attacks. Clients are also given strategies to use if they feel stressed, or are exposed to their trigger situations.
Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT (which can be used with hypnotherapy) involves identifying the thoughts and feelings that can lead to anxiety, and thus the specific behaviour which leads to panic attacks. The therapist and client then work together to identify more positive thoughts and feelings to reduce anxiety, and decrease or hopefully stop the panic attacks.
Medication can also be used to decrease panic attacks, and this needs to be prescribed by a medical doctor, e.g., GP.
Hypnotherapy can help with the causes and the symptoms of panic attacks. Lisa Billingham specialises in helping people with anxiety and stress through hypnotherapy with integrated CBT.
Give Lisa a call on 0403 932311 for an obligation-free chat on how hypnotherapy could help you.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington DC.