• This is an edited extract from my new anxiety ebook: “The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic”
What psychologists call ‘panic disorder’ is a little different from the everyday use of the word panic.
Sufferers experience these panic attack symptoms:
- intense fear,
- a very strong physical reaction,
- and the sensation of being about to die or losing complete mental control.
Physical panic attack symptoms
Physical symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, upset stomach, sweating and shaking.
That is why many people think they are having a heart attack.
Of course, thinking you are having a heart attack contributes to the panic.
This is all in the face of very little real danger — although it feels very different to the person experiencing it.
Often people experiencing a panic attack feel there is a physical problem. This is possible. That is why it is sensible to get checked out by a physician.
If they, or perhaps other people, suggest it could be more psychological, then panic attacks are a possibility.
Panic attacks are quite common among people who experience a lot of anxiety.
Panic attack triggers
It is estimated that around 1 in 10 people experience at least one panic attack in a year.
They may not be frequent, but can be triggered by a situation or object that provokes deep fears.
For example, people who are fearful of social situations may have a panic attack at a party.
Or, people who are fearful of enclosed spaces might have a panic attack in a lift.
People who primarily have a panic disorder, though, can experience panic attacks apparently in response to little more than being afraid of being afraid.
It is often the fear of having a panic attack that starts the attack itself.
There is a kind of swirl of thoughts at the heart of panic attacks.
How to deal with panic attacks
One of the first steps in addressing panic attacks is understanding and breaking down what is happening.
- Stage 1: The first sign of disaster could be anything small that causes the first twinges of anxiety. It might be an upsetting thought, noticing a fast-beating heart or being in a certain situation.
- Stage 2: As the anxiety grows — usually very rapidly — the physical symptoms get worse. The heart beats faster, the sweats start, the adrenaline flows. These physical sensations only seem to confirm those first twinges of anxiety: it feels as though it must certainly be a heart-attack or some other catastrophic problem.
- Stage 3: Anxious thoughts have now become catastrophic thoughts. Naturally, this leads right back into more anxiety, physical sensations and so on…
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
→ This is an edited extract from PsyBlog’s anxiety ebook: “The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic”