What are Panic Attacks?

Sometimes people misunderstand or misuse the term panic attacks. Panic attacks are when people experience a sudden, unexpected rush of fear and discomfort. They might experience a rapid or pounding heartbeat, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, numbness, or tingling, hot flashes or chills, or feel like they are going crazy or going to die. Panic attacks typically peak within about 10 minutes and shortly thereafter resolve. Oftentimes, when people first experience a panic attack they think they may be having a heart attack because of how strong the physical sensations are. This is because people who experience panic attacks are typically less aware of their thoughts and feelings and more aware of their physical sensations.


What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is when someone experiences repeated panic attacks and are so worried or anxious about when they might experience another panic attack that they start to restrict their lives in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to avoid these uncomfortable feelings. They let the fear of experiencing these intense physical sensations stop them from living a full life.


Managing Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can help by expanding people’s awareness to include their thoughts and feelings in addition to learning how to tolerate, or better yet, accept, the intense and uncomfortable physical sensations that arise using mindfulness-based skills so that they are free to live a full life.


Resources

You can learn more about panic attacks and panic disorder here. You might also be interested in purchasing my book!


If you are interested in learning more or in working with me please go to my homepage to contact me or schedule your free 15-minute phone call.


Please note that the information in this blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for psychological or medical care.  If you are looking for professional help, visit my resources page for guidance on how to find a therapist.  If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.

© 2020 Carissa Gustafson, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.

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