A panic attack is an intense surge of fear accompanied by physical sensations that may include some combination of sweating, trembling, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, or chest pain. The mind may interpret these symptoms as signs that the person is dying or losing their mind (e.g., “I’m going crazy!”). Many people who experience their first panic attack go the emergency room, believing something terrible is wrong with them.
Sometimes people have panic attacks in response to specific situations (e.g. certain social situations; freeway driving) or around certain objects (like spiders). Some medical conditions and substances can cause similar symptoms as well. Sometimes there is a clear trigger for panic attacks, and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue. People who experience unexpected panic attacks are more likely to be diagnosed with Panic Disorder.
When people experience repeated, unexpected panic attacks, they may begin to fear having them; as a result, they make changes to their life in order to avoid having another panic attack. Unfortunately, these attempts to avoid future panic attacks tend to make the problem worse, as the avoidance because they are living in fear of these symptoms, and they often lose contact with activities that are important to them. Unfortunately, efforts to avoid panic attacks make them worse in the long-term and gradually rob people of activities they use to enjoy.
If this sounds like you or someone you love, please give us a call. Excellent evidence-based treatment for panic disorder is available. We can talk about how we might help you. Contact us at the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic to discuss treatment options.