Your Therapy

Treatment for panic attacks

panic attack On several occasions, I’ve written about how seriously anxiety disorders can impact a person’s quality of life. However, there’s another important aspect of anxiety disorders that I’d like to address in detail: panic attacks.

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that trigger severe physical reactions—even when there’s no apparent cause.

During a panic attack, people may experience:

  • Heart palpitations or a pounding, accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating, trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering or choking

Panic attacks can be very frightening—people commonly report feeling like they’re having a heart attack or even dying. In addition, panic attacks can be one part of another mental-health challenge, while some people with panic disorder are otherwise totally healthy. In both cases, panic disorder is very treatable with psychotherapy.

The pattern and process of a panic attack bell curve - panic attacks

The first step is understanding the pattern and process of a panic attack. When panic strikes, your anxiety level follows a classic bell curve, starting low, building to a peak and then tapering back down.

And this process will ALWAYS end. In a panic attack, your body rapidly powers up to face an intense (though not real) danger, and your adrenaline levels spike, but the human machine simply can’t sustain this for long. While the episode is scary and unpleasant, most panic attacks will run their course in 5 to 20 minutes.

Therapy techniques for panic attacks

However, as panic levels rise along the curve, there is a point where the attack can be stopped. One of the most effective treatments is teaching people how to recognize the early physical signs of a panic episode. Once you learn to recognize these, you can catch the episode before it reaches the  “point of no return,” and avoid the full attack. There are a number of therapeutic techniques we can use to stop a panic attack. These include: deep-breathing, mindfulness, verbalizing the issue, distracting oneself by, listening to music and even going for a walk. Different techniques work for different clients, but there are so many options available, we can usually find one or more that helps.

And even if you miss that window of time during which a panic attack can be averted, understanding how the process works makes it easier to get through the episode. You recognize what’s happening, that you’re not going to die from it, and that you’ll be fine once it runs its course.

Ultimately, having a plan in place to cope with panic attack lets you feel more in control of your life, and able to resume your normal daily activities. Conquering panic attacks takes time and practice, but the success rate of those who seek treatment is high. 

Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about treatment for panic attacks, anxiety therapy,  or other mental health issues.

Your Therapy is a team of experienced Registered Social Workers and Psychotherapists providing clients with strengths-based individual, couple and family therapy. Contact us for more information about treatments for panic attacks.

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