Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What is a panic attack

* A panic attack is when you experience a sudden increase of intense anxiety

* During a panic attack you may be afraid that you are going crazy or dying

* Also during a panic attack you are likely to experience intense bodily sensations
                                                 
Why are panic attacks so distressing?
Panic attacks are distressing because you can experience a range of disturbing bodily sensations including: heart palpations, dizziness, sweating, choking, trembling or shaking, breathlessness and feeling unreal. These intense physical sensations can make you feel like you are suffocating, and this is what makes you feel as though you are either dying or going crazy.
What can trigger a panic attack?
A number of things can trigger a panic attack
1. Feared situations                                                                                                                              Sometimes situations which create fear can cause you to have a panic attack
2. Waking from sleep
Panic attacks can also occur on waking from sleep. In these situations you may wake from sleep in a state of intense anxiety 
3. Phobias
Panic attacks can also occur as a result of phobias such as social or agoraphobia and claustrophobia.

Nothing triggers my panic attacks?
You are likely to experience a panic attack occurring spontaneously or un-expectantly, and that's why you often feel like there is nothing obvious which has triggered your panic attack.
  
What we know about Panic attacks
Panic attacks have triggers
It is widely understood that panic attacks follow a particular sequence of events which begin with a trigger. Often you might be unaware of the threat leading to an increase in fear and anxiety, this is because once a trigger fuels a panic attack, you become caught up in a rapid increase of anxiety. A rapidly increase in anxiety, also makes it difficult to think about what actually triggered the increase in your anxiety.

Vicious circles
The second feature of panic attacks is what is called vicious anxiety circles. In vicious circles, thoughts, emotions and sensations stoke anxiety like wood stoking a fire. This is why panic attacks flare into high anxiety very quickly.

An imagined catastrophe
Vicious circles of anxiety develop because of the underlying belief in panic attacks of an impending catastrophe. These imagined catastrophes are usually based on you misreading your bodily sensations or state of mind.

a). Misunderstanding your body
In a panic attack you are likely to misinterpret your bodily sensations as sign of an immediate impending disaster, such as having a heart attack, collapsing, suffocating, or going crazy. For example, some people think that dizziness is a sign that they are about to faint, or a speeded heart rate as a sign that you are about to have a heart attack.

b). Misunderstanding your thoughts
In a panic attack you are also likely to find yourself with racing thoughts, and often this is mistakenly thought of as a sign of a psychological or social catastrophe, such as losing control of one’s mind or behaviour.

c) Misunderstanding other sensations
Sometimes people also misunderstand bodily sensations which are not a result of anxiety. For example light headedness resulting from low blood sugar, or changes in blood pressure due to changes into body posture, can also trigger anxiety which might lead to a panic attack.

Reference
Wells, A. (1997). Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders. Wiley.

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