We are sometimes overwhelmed by specific thoughts, emotions or situations to the extent that they turn into fear; one we feel captivated within, and unable to control. This overwhelming emotion is a result of our anxiety; when we are afraid of things getting out of hand and the occurrence of undesirable events happening to us. As have previously discussed, about anxiety, one of its comorbidities (referring to more than one disorder or diseases that exist alongside a primary diagnosis) are panic disorders that come in forms of panic attacks.
Indeed, we sometimes mistakenly believe that the fear of panic attacks is realistic and represents the accurate threat of the situation when in reality: that is far from the truth.
A panic attack comes with physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms – such as shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, chest pain, crying, numbness, fear of losing control and sense of death.
Panic attacks could be expected; in response to a situation, or unexpected; with no apparent reason, in a frequent manner. We usually experience panic attacks due to being afraid of not being able to deal with a specific situation based on others expectations or expectations we set for ourselves.
Accordingly, we tend to avoid situations that might evaluate our performance or embarrass us; believing we are protecting ourselves from panic attacks through this maladaptive way. The duration of a panic attack differs from one person to another ranging from seconds to one hour.
Some panic attacks could result from a change in our lives such as losing a loved one, starting a new job or getting married. While, other reasons might be unknown or due to biological vulnerabilities, such as when we are put under stress that we perceive as uncontrollable.
Here is an example of a female patient experiencing panic attacks due to a life stressor.
“She came for therapy because she was experiencing panic attacks after her father passed away that was accompanied by her mother talking to her about marriage and her new boss judging her work performance. She had guilt feelings that whatever she did to please her mother wasn’t enough, in addition to her multiple unsuccessful relationships that might lead her to stay unmarried till the age of 34 as her mother perceived too late for her daughter to be married. As a result of these stressors, her panic attacks were frequent; experiencing shortness of breath, crying, and fear of losing control. Her attacks lasted for two weeks before seeking help and her maladaptive coping strategy was traveling alone to avoid her mother and being suspicious about any man she met”.
Indeed, traveling alone is not a bad idea to get some self-care time for herself; however, it shouldn’t be for the purpose of escaping from undesired situations or emotions. Hence, the main goal during therapy is to find alternatives for adaptive coping strategies to deal with panic attacks, anxiety and life stressors.
Therapy is an essential factor in treating panic disorder or anxiety along with medication if needed. The main focus was to teach her ways to accurately rate fearful situations instead of overgeneralizing them, leading to her panic attacks. One important skill to help aid this is being able to distinguish between her thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, to appropriately interpret a stressful situation. The main reason that caused her panic attacks was due to her magnification of that specific life situation, perceiving it as beyond her control.
Additionally, she was introduced to relaxation techniques and ways to deal with her panic attacks if they recurred.
Therapy sessions differ from one person to another. This brief example is just an elaboration of what can cause a panic attack, symptoms and our maladaptive coping strategies used to deal with it.
“It is all in your head”, is the common statement we are told when we experience panic attacks. However, it takes time to realize that we interpret situations in ways that can negatively affect us.
Not all of us need a therapist’s help to deal with anxiety or panic attacks, but it might be better to seek help if it is really affecting our mood, cognition and making us avoid situations that aren’t as fearful as we perceive them.
A therapist will only introduce you to a new pathway of thinking that you might not have tried before that could be of help.
In the end, trying to seek help from a professional will never do you any harm; however, it might be for your own benefit.
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