Panic attacks – anxiety: causes and treatment

Panic attacks are common anxiety conditions. In this article you will find information about the causes, symptoms and treatment of panic attacks as well as a panic aid for your cell phone.

Dr. Doris Wolf

Panic attacks - anxiety: causes and treatment

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What are the causes of panic attacks? Can you treat panic attacks yourself? How to avoid panic attacks? Answer gives this contribution over the causes, symptoms and the treatment of panic attacks.

"Fear of what? I do not know it myself so exactly. The strange feeling was just there and got worse and worse. It all started about four years ago. I was in the store where I actually liked it, and suddenly I had such a strange feeling. It came from the chest/heart area and went up the neck very slowly. It was like an oppression, just like someone is holding your throat, but lower down.

I just got scared of that. As time went by, my heart started pounding and it went terribly fast, it was there in a flash – the panic. When I changed jobs, my attacks got worse and worse. I just dragged myself through the day. My only fear was that my heart would stop and I would drop dead. I would get up in the morning and not know how to get through the day."

One client described her panic attacks in these words. She speaks on behalf of all people who suffer from anxiety like panic attacks. The percentage of women is 60 to 75 percent.

People who suffer from panic attacks usually run to doctors for years and are treated with pills without the causes being identified or treated. They get the impression of being crazy because they feel physical discomfort but no doctor can find an organic cause. The anxiety and panic attacks usually occur out of the blue in everyday life.

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What do you mean by panic attacks?

Sufferers experience sudden onset of anxiety with physical symptoms such as:

  • Palpitations, heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, sweating, trembling or shaking,
  • Dry mouth,
  • Shortness of breath, feelings of suffocation, tightness or lump in the throat,
  • Pain, pressure or tightness in the chest,
  • Nausea or abdominal pain,
  • Dizziness, feelings of insecurity, fainting and lightheadedness,
  • Feelings of unreality or the feeling of not really being there,
  • Fear of losing control, fear of "going crazy or fainting,
  • Fear of suffering a heart attack or dying,
  • Hot flashes or cold shivers,
  • Numbness or tingling sensations.


Panic attacks associated with agoraphobia

Sufferers feel physical discomfort such as z.B. Palpitations, sweating, difficulty breathing. Feeling of anxiety, dizziness, feeling of unreality, hot flashes or cold shivers, fear of death. They begin to avoid the situations from which they believe they cannot escape and where there would be no help in case of a panic attack.

Relief and relief from anxiety is felt when other people are present or when a doctor is nearby. The agoraphobia test shows you if you suffer from this anxiety disorder.

A typical symptom of agoraphobia is the fear of feeling helpless and overwhelmed in certain situations and the fear of not being able to escape from these situations. Therefore, they avoid buses, trains or other means of transportation. Also events, which one cannot leave without attracting unpleasant attention, are usually avoided. The fear of anxiety can be so strong that there is a retreat into one’s own home, which is no longer left. This results in a strong dependence on the partner, friends and relatives.

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Symptoms of panic attacks

Anxiety states such as panic attacks manifest themselves in the body, thinking, feeling and acting

Body reactions during panic attacks

In many sufferers, blood pressure rises, they breathe faster. Muscles tense up, they sweat or freeze. Some people get weak knees, feel tingling in the legs. Everything blurs before their eyes, they feel nauseous and dizzy. They feel a tremor or pulling in the chest, a lump in the throat. Diarrhea and urination occur frequently.

Feelings during panic attacks

  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Panic
  • Fear of going crazy

Thoughts during panic attacks

Affected persons can no longer concentrate and ruminate: "It would be terrible if such and such were to happen to me. I’m bound to fall over, have a heart attack, feel dizzy . " Thoughts revolve around it,

  • of dying,
  • you have a serious illness such as z.B. could have a brain tumor or a heart defect,
  • That one could lose control,
  • The possibility of fainting,
  • that one could suffocate.

Behavior during panic attacks

Affected persons avoid certain situations or only go out of the house with a companion. They leave situations in flight, fearing that they will have a panic attack. They drink themselves courage or take tranquilizers.


Causes of panic attacks

Behind panic attacks can hide different causes. They include the following:

  • Stressful situation: sufferers find themselves in a situation of conflict or stress for which they cannot find a solution. You are z. B. due to a separation, dismissal, death, financial hardship, serious chronic illness of a relative in a personal and emotional crisis.
  • Exhaustion situation: Sufferers are exhausted as a result of a physical illness.
  • Hyperactive nervous system: Affected individuals have an innate increased propensity for anxiety. They react to stimuli more intensely than others and are slower to get used to new stimuli.
  • Personality traits: Affected persons have perfectionist demands on themselves and feel responsible for everything and everyone. you are unable to express anger and set boundaries. As a result, they often feel overwhelmed.
  • Physical illnesses Such as a thyroid dysfunction, deficiency of vitamin B1, liver disease, calcium balance disorders, a viral infection can cause anxiety. Similarly, low blood sugar or low blood pressure can lead to physical dizziness, weakness, and lightheadedness, which they may then judge as dangerous and react with fear.
  • Also associated with Hormonal changes during menopauseanxiety can occur. That is why it makes sense to be examined by a general practitioner or specialist before going to an anxiety treatment with a psychotherapist.
  • Medication such as thyroid medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, certain cold medications, sleeping pills, cardiovascular medications, sedatives, and drugs such as alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, or hallucinogens can cause anxiety while they are being taken or after they are discontinued.
  • Panic anxiety can also be associated with Brain damage, psychosis, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder occur.

The course of panic attacks

  1. Affected persons usually experience peculiar physical states such as attacks of weakness or circulatory disorders in a phase of physical and/or mental weakening in a particular situation. Usually situations where sufferers believe they have no control over the situation, such as at the movies, in traffic jams, waiting in line at the cash register, at the hairdresser, at the department store.
  2. Sufferers become so unsettled by their physical reactions that they do not want to experience such a panic attack again under any circumstances. They therefore begin to avoid the situation that they believe triggered the first seizure. They imagine this first seizure over and over again and create a similar tension in the body again with their imagination alone. The avoidance eventually spreads. Fear of anxiety develops. Affected individuals seek out aids to maintain their daily routine. Taking tranquilizers, going out of the house only when accompanied, drinking up courage, distracting oneself compulsively, etc. They flee from situations in which their symptoms become noticeable. They withdraw from the environment and become depressed.
  3. Sufferers begin to believe they are suffering from a serious illness, mental illness, heart failure, epilepsy or brain tumor.

Psychotherapy for panic attacks

Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks can be treated with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy. Confrontation therapy in particular, a component of behavioral therapy, is an important component in the treatment of anxiety. Panic attack treatment addresses two areas:

1. At the triggering conditions for the first panic attack: Sufferers learn stress management strategies, increase their self-confidence and reduce perfectionist demands.

2. On dealing with the panic attacks: Sufferers learn to recognize the connections between their catastrophic thoughts and physical reactions. They learn that their physical reactions and anxiety are generated by themselves through their anxiety-provoking thoughts and fantasies. In 90 percent of the cases, the feared reactions that they imagine in their minds never occur. You will learn to understand how fear builds up, that fear is intensified by avoidance and escape, and that by consciously exposing yourself to it, fear will weaken. They learn to trust their body again.

The goal of confrontation therapy is to, Free sufferers from the debilitating symptoms of their anxiety attacks as quickly as possible. You will be specifically confronted with your anxiety, d.h. They have to put themselves in the situations that trigger anxiety for them, must not avoid the anxiety situations or flee from them. You feel your anxiety intensely in the situations and experience that you can endure it.

The therapist will support them and explain how to deal with the physical reactions and feelings of anxiety that occur. Your therapist will also recommend that you learn a relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation. With the help of this easy-to-learn relaxation technique, you will be able to better cope with the physical anxiety and stress reactions, thus increasing your confidence in your body.

What can you do in case of panic attacks? How can you alleviate anxiety?

Strategy 1: Be aware: "I create my anxiety through my thoughts and fantasies. Therefore, I can overcome my anxiety by getting my anxious thoughts under control." Observe what thoughts precede your physical reactions and your feelings of fear. Usually we make fantasies that we can’t survive a situation, will collapse, etc. We don’t have a mental illness, a brain tumor, a heart defect, or go crazy. Our body has to deal with reactions such as dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, etc. React when we imagine that a situation is life-threatening.

Strategy 2: Refrain from avoiding the situations you are afraid of. By avoiding, you keep confirming to yourself your false belief that you can’t handle anxiety. Your avoidance contributes to the perpetuation of your panic attacks!

Strategy 3: Expect your panic attacks to surface when you go into previously avoided situations. Say to yourself, "I know that now my anxiety and all my physical symptoms are going to show up. You need to show up because up until now I have always told myself how dangerous the situation is. They are the result of my thoughts. You will pass. I can bear them, they are just unpleasant. I will now stay in the situation until I become calmer. I can do abdominal breathing to calm myself down".

Important: You need to stay in the situation until the anxiety (panic) subsides.

Strategy 4: Learn abdominal breathing.

Place your hand flat on your belly 2 cm below your navel. Then take a deep breath and imagine the breath slowly flowing down to your hand and finally breathing up your hand. Then imagine the breath slowly escaping back out over the chest, back over the nose, and focus on how the hand sinks back down again. Repeat this exercise for several minutes. Your body can not be tense and relaxed at the same time. If you do the breathing exercise, the anxiety will decrease.

Strategy 5: Remember: panic attacks can only be overcome by going into the situation you are afraid of with fear. Over time, the anxiety will diminish until eventually it will be normal for you to go back to the situation you were previously afraid of.

Strategy 6: Consult a psychotherapist and/or contact a self-help group if you have been suffering from anxiety for a long time and cannot control it yourself.

On our website Anxiety and Panic Help you will find a lot of information about anxiety disorders and anxiety states.

What to do when partner has a panic attack?

As a relative, you probably face the problem of not knowing how to react when your partner has a panic attack. You can also find help for this on the Anxiety Panic Help website. Look there for the type of malfunction for which you are looking for tips.

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