Treatment For Panic Attacks: Start With A Good Evaluation
The successful treatment of panic attacks should begin with a thorough and comprehensive
assessment by a healthcare professional such, as a Montreal Psychologist. The reason is that panic attacks can occur, or be triggered, within a variety of different contexts.
Successfully treating panic attacks involves an understanding of the context in which the panic attack occurs. If the panic attack occurs only when meeting new people, the person may have Social Anxiety Disorder. If a panic attack is triggered by a perceived exposure to germs, than OCD may be the root cause. If panic occurs during a cue that is related to a traumatic event, then the treatment of panic attacks would need to be in relation to PTSD.
If an individual has a constant fear of developing a panic attack and they avoid places or situations in which they fear that a panic attack may occur, then the person may suffer from Panic Disorder.
In Panic Disorder, people catastrophize normal bodily sensations. Many situations can trigger bodily sensations – anger, excitement, drugs, caffeine, normal bodily fluctuations and even relaxation – which is why people typically report that they do not know why the panic attacks occurs as it appears random to them.
Is Panic The Same As Anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion that we all have experienced. We have all felt the typical symptoms of anxiety, such an increase in heart rate, dizziness and stomach cramps when we have been late for an appointment, when meeting someone for the first time or when someone cuts in front of us while driving.
Anxiety is an emotion that tells us that we perceive a danger or threat, which can be physical or emotional in nature. Seeing a bear and being afraid of getting hurt or killed is an example of a physical threat or danger. In contrast, a fear of being judged when giving a presentation or being afraid of failing an exam are examples of threats or dangers that are emotional in nature.
Regardless of whether the danger or threat is physical or emotional, anxiety is associated with physical, cognitive and behavioural reactions. In the example of coming face-to-face with a bear, you would probably think “Oh my god! I may die”, which is cognitive while your heart is beating and you get tense (physical) and then react by trying to run away (behavioural).
In some cases anxiety may increase to the point of developing into a panic attack, which is a sudden rush of intense anxiety (i.e. 10 out of 10).
5 Ways To Treat Panic Attacks
Once the context of the panic attacks has been identified, the treatment of the panic attacks can begin with a set of tools specific to that disorder. Regardless of the context, here are five key factors that will help with treating panic attacks.
1. Panic Attacks are not dangerous.
- Anxiety and panic start a system that we call ‘fight-or-flight’, which is associated with a number of physiological changes in our body that are meant to help us survive in the case of a real danger. However, we interpret these as symptoms when we focus on them. Consult this reference for information on this aspect of panic attack treatment. Panic attacks occur when we misinterpret these bodily sensations as catastrophic (i.e. wrong, bad or dangerous). Recognize that panic attacks are simply the ‘flight-or-flight’ system working and that the feelings are harmless.
2. Treating panic attacks involves reinterpreting you experience with the panic.
- If you are in good physical health, you will not die or have a heart attack – recall that these are examples of physical threats. You will also not ‘go crazy’ or ‘lose control’ – examples of emotional threats. Just repeat that these things will not happen to you.
3. An important aspect of treatment of panic attacks is Diaphragmatic Breathing.
- Put a hand on your stomach and breath ‘in-and-out’ at a constant rhythm. If you have trouble focusing on your breathing because you are getting distracted by the panic and other thoughts, look around and pick a square object (e.g. window, door frame, cell phone). Follow the outline of the square object while breathing ‘in-and-out’ to keep your attention on your breathing. You may need to breath for many minutes before feeling better. Just keep it at!
4. Remember that you always successfully treat panic attacks as they always go away.
- Panic attacks tend to go away after 5-10 minutes. Have you ever had a panic attack last forever? Of course not. Keep in mind that you will beat the panic if you just wait.
5. Face your fears to successfully treat panic attacks.
- We tend to avoid what we are afraid of. This is good when there is a real physical danger such as a bear. However, when there is no real threat, avoidance fuels anxiety and panic. We end up learning that there may really be a danger and that we cannot cope with the anxiety and that avoidance is our only option. Exposure Therapy is the way to gradually face your fears and what we use for the treatment of panic attacks.