Understanding Panic Attacks

The Wellbeing Doctor

I'm an NHS Clinical Psychologist (in training) sharing practical evidence-based ideas for looking after your mental and physical health.

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There’s no denying that panic attacks can be a really terrifying, yet very common, experience! ⠀

A panic attack is a limited period of intense fear and discomfort which develops suddenly and usually reaches a peak within about 10 minutes. ⁠⠀
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They are usually made up of a collection of uncomfortable physical sensations, such as breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, trembling, sweating, nausea and many others. ⠀
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Panic attacks are usually experienced “out of the blue” but are preceded by high levels of anxiety or stress. They are often experienced in situations where the physical symptoms could be perceived as particularly threatening, for example- outside of home, in social situations or when driving or in a situation where help is not accessible. ⠀
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However, often the thing which maintains panic attacks is our own misinterpretation of the symptoms we’re experiencing as being dangerous. ⁠⠀
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Commonly (and understandably) many people believe that when they are having a panic attack that they are going to die/have a heart attack/go crazy/lose control/faint etc. ⁠⠀
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The symptoms of anxiety which make up a panic attack such as palpitations and dizziness are misinterpreted as being life-threatening or harmful, leading to – you guessed it! – even more anxiety and increased likelihood of panic attacks.⁠⠀
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Often, panic attacks can be reduced by developing an understanding of the fight or flight response and how these physical symptoms of anxiety are normal, temporary and not dangerous. Mindfulness practices can also help us to notice when we first start to feel anxious and put a strategy in place to help, hopefully preventing a panic attack occuring. Using some of the breathing techniques and grounding strategies I’ve shared in other posts can be helpful when you feel anxiety rising. ⠀
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Have you found anything particularly helpful for panic attacks? Let me know in the comments!⁠⠀

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The Wellbeing Doctor

I'm an NHS Clinical Psychologist (in training) sharing practical evidence-based ideas for looking after your mental and physical health.

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