Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

My first panic attack came when I was 11 years old. I had always been a pretty anxious kid, but this experience was something new, confusing, and terrifying. My heart was racing, my breathing pressured, my whole body trembled. There was this overwhelming sense of fear and impending danger. I even thought I might be dying–which only intensified my panic.

For years I struggled to rid myself of these panic attacks, but never could figure out how. In fact, most of my efforts only ended up increasing my anxiety and panic attacks. I desperately tried to avoid anxiety, bottle up uncomfortable feelings, and run away from scary thoughts. It wasn't until I had an experience that forced me to face my fears that I finally learned how to extinguish these panic attacks.

It has been over 20 years since my last panic attack.

At Northfield Dynamic Therapy we specialize in treating anxiety concerns–especially those that might involve panic attacks. Please read the information on this webpage to learn more about panic attacks and how you can treat it.

How common are panic attacks?

Whenever I give a presentation on anxiety I ask audience members to raise their hands if they have ever experienced a panic attack. Anywhere from 25-50% of hands go up. Some researchers estimate that 40% of the US population experiences at least one panic attack in their life.

Panic Disorder describes a condition where panic attacks are re-occurring and disrupt your daily life. Approximately 2-3% of the US adult population suffers from panic disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of panic attacks?

These are some of the possible symptoms that can arise during a panic attack.

  • a sense of overwhelming panic or fear
  • the thought that you are dying, choking, ‘losing control’ or ‘going mad’
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat (sometimes feeling like there is not enough air)
  • excessive perspiration
  • dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint.
  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment

After a panic attack has passed, most people are very scared that they will have another one. They might avoid certain places, situations, or other things in order to try and avoid having another panic attack. This fear, unfortunately, can easily "feed" their anxiety and actually increases the chances of having another panic attack.

I was terrified of having panic attacks. Yet, the more scared I was the more often I had them. It wasn't until I was 16 years old that I finally said "whatever" and felt ok about having panic attacks–and then they went away.

How long do panic attacks last?

Usually 5-20 minutes.

What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

Panic attacks tend to "come out of the blue" while anxiety attacks are usually tied to a specific stressor.

Panic attacks onset suddenly, while anxiety attacks tend to slowly build over time.

Panic attacks usually last 5-20 minutes, while anxiety attacks can last several hours.

Panic attacks are more intense and disruptive, while anxiety attacks are less severe.

When should I see a professional?

Panic Disorder usually does not go away on its own. For many, it will actually increase in intensity over time and consequently their lives will become more and more disrupted. Some people will stop getting on planes, going to the grocery store, attending class, and will avoid other physical spaces and situations in fear that they will suffer a panic attack. Eventually, some people end up being too scared to leave their homes. 

We encourage you to reach out to a professional to discuss your situation and see what their treatment recommendations are for you. Here are Northfield Dynamic Therapy we offer free 15-minute consultations to understand your concerns and help you figure out the next step for treating your anxiety.

Will my panic attacks go away?

Luckily, panic disorder is one of the most treatable anxiety concerns. You can make some big changes with therapy and/or medication. Many of our clients become free of panic attacks as they work their therapy goals, change their relationship with anxiety, and learn how to handle feelings of stress and panic.

What causes panic disorder?

Our best understanding is that it is probably a combination of family genes and interpersonal learning (nature and nurture), major life stress, temperament, and negative life experiences.

Is panic disorder dangerous to my health?

No, and yes. Even though panic attacks are extremely uncomfortable (and exhausting) they are benign and pose no threat to your health. There are no known physical health complications that come from having a panic attack. However, years and years of chronic stress can increase risk for certain health problems. So, while there definitely are no short term dangers for panic attacks, there may be some long term increased risk for your health.

How do you treat panic disorder?

The research is clear that psychotherapy is effective for treating panic disorder. Medication can also help reduce–and sometimes stop–symptoms. According to many research studies, the most effective method is a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Most people engage in 3-9 months of talk therapy with someone that specializes in anxiety concerns. Many clients notice positive changes within the first couple sessions. Here at Northfield Dynamic Therapy we specialize in panic disorder (and co-occurring anxiety disorders like social anxiety, generalized anxiety, obsessive and compulsive disorder, or specific fears/phobias).

Our treatment for panic attacks involves helping you change your relationship with anxiety. We help you face your anxiety in a way that dis-empowers the control it has over you and empowers you to be in control of your life. When it comes to panic attacks, the goal is always to rid your life of panic attacks. We want them to become a thing of the past.

If you'd like to connect with one of our anxiety specialists, please contact us!