A woman puts a hand to her chest as she experiences a panic attack
Published On: April 15, 2020|Categories: Mental Disorders|

The American Psychological Association conducts a study on stress in the United States every year and focuses on both the emotional and physical symptoms that result. The magnitude of the pandemic’s effect on stress is so significant, the resulting fear, stress and worry that people face have been considered a national mental health crisis.

While panic attack symptoms may have been present before the pandemic and many people have struggled with the disorder for years, it wouldn’t be surprising if you first experienced a panic attack in the past few years. Whether panic disorder is something that is new to you or you’ve been struggling with it for years, there are some things you need to know about this condition.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden, inexplicable series of physical symptoms including a tight chest, shortness of breath, sweating, racing thoughts, and a feeling of being trapped or crawling out of your skin. Panic attacks are a driving force for hospital Emergency Room visits since the symptoms feel similar to a heart attack.

Panic disorder develops when you experience multiple, repeated panic attacks, leading to a cycle of feeling unsafe, out of control, and anxious in public due to an overwhelming fear of having another panic attack. This fear can spark a chain reaction of physical and mental symptoms that leads to another panic attack. While it is not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, genetics, stress, traumatic events, and major life changes can contribute to their onset.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), almost 5 percent of Americans experience panic disorder at some point in their lives. When someone is in the grip of a panic disorder, a trained clinician can help.

What are panic attack symptoms?

The symptoms of panic disorder, although stemming from emotional and mental distress, are primarily physical. They may include the following.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Racing thoughts
  • Claustrophobia
  • Catastrophic thoughts
  • Feeling like death is impending
  • Feeling like you’re having a heart attack
  • Feeling out of control
  • Being unable to regulate your thoughts or feelings

These symptoms can all be managed with the right guidance and treatment.

How to stop a panic attack

When someone is experiencing a panic attack, the best help is through a trained clinician. Most often, though, there isn’t someone on hand who can walk you through the overwhelming sensation of panic attack symptoms. In treatment, you’ll learn how to stop a panic attack on your own, through coping, exposure therapy and emotional regulation skills.

Panic disorder treatment is likely to include the following.

  • Understanding the disorder: part of healing from panic disorder and preventing panic attacks in the future is understanding the clinical diagnosis and the symptoms that come along with it. Learning about the condition can help you put language to your experience, normalize your struggles and help you realize the effectiveness of partaking in treatment
  • Coping skills: in psychotherapy sessions you’ll learn to develop effective coping skills that are personalized to your needs and preferences. You’ll find ways to bear through tough anxiety and fear with activities like mindfulness and self-talk
  • Exposure therapy: exposure therapy is one of the most evidence-based treatments for all anxiety disorders. This treatment includes slowly encountering the event or object of fear in a way that makes the fear seem more proportional. Your reactions will decrease as you realize the thing feared is not as dangerous as you perceived
  • Emotional regulation skills: in addition to coping, you’ll learn how to have an interior sense of peace and calm with emotional regulation skills. These can be built with self-care, therapy and other treatment modalities. The more you learn to identify and manage your emotions, the more in control you’ll feel, preventing that sense of overwhelming panic

Medication may also be implemented as part of your panic disorder treatment regimen to stabilize strong emotions.

If you’re looking for panic disorder treatment and the above symptoms resonate with you, you’ll want to check out the Light Program. Call today and take the first step toward finding relief.

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