A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear. Panic attacks are also called anxiety attacks. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger for a panic attack, but usually they occur without warning.
People often don't know what they're experiencing when they have a panic attack, which makes it even more frightening. Therefore, on this page I will describe the symptoms and most common cause of panic attacks.
A panic attack can include some or all of the following symptoms:
A panic attack is like a volcano that has built up pressure over time and then suddenly releases it. Once triggered, your body releases a surge of adrenaline that produces the symptoms of panic. The triggering event can be almost anything. The important point to understand about panic attacks is not what triggers them, but their long buildup phase.
The buildup phase of a panic attack is the most important phase, because this is where you can prevent it. Your anxiety gradually increases over time, until you become like a wound up spring. Then almost anything can set you off.
If you've had a panic attack, think back to the months before your first attack. They usually take six months to a year to gradually build up. Were you under high stress during that time? Panic attacks can also occur if you struggle with PTSD or substance abuse.
Once you've had one panic attack, you're more likely to have another. Panic attacks are so uncomfortable that the fear of having another one can become another source of stress. Therefore they become self-fulfilling.
Prevention of panic attacks occurs at the build up phase. Prevention involves changing your thinking and reducing your tension so that you have fewer layers of tension. That way you won't be like a volcano ready to erupt.
Prevention is not about stopping a panic attack just before it happens. The best you can do then is manage it. You can use relaxation techniques to minimize the effect of a panic attack. But if you want to prevent panic attacks from happening, you can use cognitive therapy and mind-body relaxation in the build up phase.
The consequence of panic attacks is that you feel trapped. It's difficult to make plans, because you don't know when you'll have another panic attack. You live in fear. Preventing panic attacks gives you your life back. (Reference: Anxiety and Depression Guide)
For medical treatment of anxiety, refer to the page on anti-anxiety medication. Two important coping skills for overcoming anxiety are the ability to relax and manage stress through mind-body relaxation, and the ability to change negative thinking through cognitive therapy.