When a person feels overwhelmed with intense and debilitating fear and anxiety, they are having a panic attack. This attack occurs without warning and seemingly without reason. It is a manifestation of a condition known as panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. There are many potential causes of a panic attack, so it’s important to be aware of potentially risky situations.
In the United States, there are approximately six million adults who experience panic disorder annually. Of these, more than half are likely to be female. Panic attacks can be so severe that a person can fear that they are having a heart attack or may think that death is imminent. In some cases, panic attacks can be so severe that they negatively impact all areas of one’s life and ability to function.
Causes of a Panic Attack
The exact causes of a panic attack is still unknown. There are, however, many medical professionals and researchers hold the same theories. Some researchers believe that it is the body’s fight-or-flight response that is falsely triggers and causes the attack. Other factors that play a part in panic attacks, even if they do not directly cause them, are a person’s genetic makeup, changes or malfunctions in the brain, susceptibility to stress, and a significantly stressful occurrence or event.
Progression of the Attack
When a person experiences a panic attack, the sudden onslaught of fear escalates until it reaches a high point or peak. The symptoms felt during a panic attack can be as severe as they are frightening and may include heart palpitations, an intense feeling of doom, pain in the chest, a sense of being smothered, and more. These attacks can progress and lead to serious problems for the individual who suffers from them.
Often, this progression or escalation is a result of one’s fear of having more attacks. This fear becomes so overwhelming that it begins to affect a person’s life when they are not having an attack. A person may begin to abuse drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with them. Attempts to avoid panic attacks may also trigger phobias. When a person avoids situations that they fear will cause a panic attack, it is situational avoidance. Because they are actively avoiding the situation out of fear, this can cause a phobia toward the situation itself.
In some cases, a person who has suffered one or more panic attacks may become increasingly reclusive out of fear of encountering a trigger. If the causes of a panic attack aren’t recognized and managed, the progression of panic attacks can also lead a person to lose their job. This is often the symptom of agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in public places and locations where help or escape would be difficult to impossible to find in the event of a panic attack. If the fear of having an anxiety attack develops disproportionally or if a person suffers from frequent attacks, there may also be an increased risk of suicide or suicide attempts.
Treatments for Panic Attacks
People who seek help for panic attacks may receive several types of treatment. The type of treatment prescribed is based on the individual and what their physician believes will be the most effective based on the individual’s symptoms. When therapy sessions are recommended, they often consist of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. With psychotherapy, the therapist and patient talk about the panic attacks in efforts to understand and develop ways to best cope with them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy challenges the way that a person feels about what is causing the panic attacks and helps them realize that the symptoms of the attack are not dangerous. This is one of the more popular treatment methods and is highly effective. Other potentially helpful treatments of a panic attack include biofeedback, which teaches people how to recognize when they are about to experience a panic attack. Once people are able to recognize the symptoms, they can use relaxation techniques to overcome the response and attack.
Relaxation techniques are, in fact, considered a treatment themselves. Controlled breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization are some of the relaxation techniques people use for treatment. Another, less conventional method of treating panic attacks is hypnosis. Many use this treatment in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. In terms of medication, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs with directions to take them at the onset of an attack. A medical professional must take care when prescribing these types of medications, as they can be habit-forming if used too frequently and not in accordance with the prescribed directions.
Morningside Recovery offers mental health treatment programs, such as anxiety treatment and PTSD treatment, to help those who suffer from chronic panic attacks. To learn more about our programs and the causes of a panic attack, call us today at 855-631-2135.