Written By Dr Brett Kennedy
This web series tries to help you to understand panic attacks. It gives information about what happens to you and your body in a panic and it tells you why these changes happen. There is also advice to help you to deal with your panic attacks, using simple coping strategies. The ideas in this booklet come from a form of psychological treatment known as cognitive‐behavioural therapy. Many of you will be waiting for, or already engaged in, some form of psychological treatment, but the booklet may also be useful if you are coping alone.
One word of caution: some people find that reading about things which worry them may make them start to feel anxious. As you will find out later on, this is understandable in terms of the model we are proposing. In the meantime, if this should happen to you whilst reading this web series, leave that section for a while and come back to it at another time.
Remember to come back to this page as new sections will appear each month until the web series is completed.
A panic attack has three important features:
Panic is usually accompanied by a sense that something awful is about to happen. You may think that you will die,or go mad,or make a complete fool of yourself, or something else…….there are as many different fears as there are people who panic. Panic often comes ‘out of the blue’ ‐ in other words, the panic attack is completely unexpected and does not appear to be triggered by anything. Other times, people can recognise particular situations which are likely to trigger an attack.
Panic attacks are very common and they are not a sign of serious mental illness. We know that as many as one in ten of the general public may have at least one panic attack in their life. Many people have panics for a while, but then the panics go away. For others, they may cause problems for a long time. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the prejudices about psychological problems which still exist, many people wait years before they tell anyone or seek professional help, and some people never seek help at all.
Panic affects your body, your thoughts and your actions. Below we describe some of the most common symptoms:
Your body: During an attack, people usually have very unpleasant bodily sensations. You will probably have noticed certain sensations in your own attacks. Some of the common ones are:
These are the commonest sensations, but remember that one of the confusing things about panic is that it can cause a very wide range of sensations. Even though your own symptoms may not be on this particular list, you still may be having panic attacks.
Your thoughts: During a panic attack, people tend to think that something dreadful is going to happen. As we have said, people may have many different fears, but these are some of the most common ones:
We should make it clear that your fears are not actually going to come true. Many people have panicked and felt awful dozens or even hundreds of times, but they are still alive and well. Nevertheless, at the time that the panic is happening these thoughts may seem very real, and of course very frightening.
Your actions or behaviour: When something as frightening as a panic happens, you will obviously tend to do something to try to prevent the harm that seems to threaten you. These are some of the ways people commonly behave when they panic:
Next month we will examine- What is the purpose of fear?