As a psychologist specializing in anxiety, I’ve provided panic attack treatment for patients suffering everything from mild, short-lived anxiety episodes all the way to truly disabling panic disorder with agoraphobia.
What are panic attacks?
There are a two basic types of experiences that people refer to as “panic attacks” or “anxiety attacks” (I treat them both):
- A classic panic attack comes out of nowhere, and brings a bunch of physical symptoms — pounding heart, heavy feeling in the chest, shortness of breath. It’s not uncommon for a person to fear for their life, or go to the emergency room thinking they’re having a heart attack.
- What I tend to call an anxiety attack usually grows out of a general sense of fear, dread, or worry. Sometimes it comes from PTSD flashbacks. It culminates in a desperate feeling that you’re losing your mind and can’t cope with being alive in the present moment. Often there are some of the physical symptoms mentioned above, as well of fits of tearfulness.
In either case, there’s often a major fear that the experience will return. So, you start avoiding situations that you think might bring on another attack — or where you would be really embarrassed to have a panic attack. It can be very tempting to avoid more and more aspects of your life, even though doing this only makes the anxiety worse in the long run.
How does panic attack treatment work?
We can start out by finding ways of recognizing and responding to a panic attack before it gets too overwhelming… developing coping skills to relax your body and let go of fear.
Then we’ll usually want to develop an understanding of where the anxiety is coming from — is it a recent development, or has this been going on for a while and just recently getting worse? What do the symptoms mean and what do they say about you?
By understanding your feelings more fully, you gain the ability to think about them more clearly, respond more effectively, and be more tolerant and forgiving with yourself.
How long will it take to get relief from panic attacks?
This depends on the nature of your panic attacks, the underlying causes, and your personality style. Many people begin to experience relief within the first few weeks of therapy.