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Understanding Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are a common circumstance for many individuals. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is reported that up to 11% of people in the United States experience a panic attack at least once each year.  Panic attacks can be frightening, unexpected and, in the moment, hard to reconcile. Luckily, panic attacks can be understood in ways that can make them much more manageable.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intensive anxiety with multiple physical and cognitive symptoms. Though they are more likely to happen if someone is already in an anxious state, they can also happen from a calm state, too. The length and severity of the attack varies from person to person.

Symptoms of panic attacks can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, and fear of losing control.

What causes panic attacks?

Experts don’t know exactly what causes panic attacks, but factors such as genetics, major stress, or previous trauma may play a role. Some common triggers of panic attacks can include large social settings, repeated conflict or arguments, anxiety, and substance use.

How can I work through a panic attack?

Because panic attacks can mirror the same symptoms as a heart attack, it’s important to understand that although they can feel scary in the moment, panic attacks are not fatal. “It’s going to be an unpleasant situation,” says Dr. Dominick Garbe, Psychiatry Resident at Centerstone, “but the faster you realize it’s temporary, the faster you can get out of it.”

Garbe also encourages the use of grounding exercises, “breathing exercises can be tremendously successful.” Many patients have success with grounding exercises that distract the nervous system from the attack, and shock another sense by chewing mint gum or splashing cold water on their face.

Do I need to seek treatment for my panic attacks?

If you have no previous psychiatric history or diagnoses and the panic attack happened just once, seeking treatment may not be necessary. However, if the attacks happen more frequently and start to impact your quality of life, and you have a psychiatric history, you may benefit from seeking treatment, as this may indicate a more significant diagnosis. The most common treatment option is a combination of medication and counseling.

Though these physiological attacks cannot be prevented, they are treatable and can be managed. If you or someone you know struggles with panic attacks or other panic-related concerns, Centerstone can help. Call us at 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) or visit our counseling services page.

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