What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of anxiety, fear and terror. The intensity of a panic attack usually reaches a peak within 5-10 minutes. A person who is having a panic attack may interpret the intense physical symptoms (e.g. palpitations, sweating, dizziness) as dangerous or life threatening and feel that they cannot cope.

Symptoms of panic attacks

These are usually an exaggeration of the normal bodily reaction to a fearful situation. These symptoms can be very sudden, unpleasant and frightening and people often misinterpret the symptoms to mean that something very bad is happening. Common thoughts might be “I am having a heart attack” or “I am going to pass out”.

Catastrophic misinterpretations: The catastrophic misinterpretation is what drives the panic cycle. If you can recognise that the uncomfortable physical symptoms are not harmful, the vicious cycle is broken and the anxiety does not become a panic attack.

Selective attention: Research shows that those who experience panic attacks are much more likely to notice physical changes in their bodies, such as an increase in heart rate or a change in temperature. The difference is that most people are unaware of these changes or do not think much of them. Those who suffer from panic attacks are much more likely to notice these changes and also more likely to instantly worry that they are going to cause another panic attack.

Avoidance behaviours: When a situation causes us anxiety, it is completely understandable that we would try to avoid that situation. Sometimes we may not avoid the situation completely, but we might adopt safety behaviours to help us cope.

Safety behaviours: make us feel “safe” in the anxiety-provoking situation. They are behaviours that we see as being helpful, as we feel that they make it less likely that something bad will happen. Avoidance and safety behaviours are helpful in the short-term, but in the long-term they maintain our anxiety.

The most important part of overcoming anxiety is tackling avoidance and facing fears. You may find that this is also the most challenging part of your work in overcoming anxiety.

We have partnered with Silvercloud to offer you free access to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) self-help programme, designed by clinical experts using proven methods for helping people, all with the aim of empowering you to think and feel better.

This programme is based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT consists of two key steps to feeling well:

  1. Understanding what’s going on inside you
  2. Making changes to feel better

The key idea behind CBT is that your emotions, thoughts, behaviours and physical sensations are connected, and affect each other.

To find out more and to get your FREE access code start a chat now with a Wellbeing Advisor or call 0800 953 9898.

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