Panic Attack Treatment
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is recommended as treatment of first choice for recurring panic attacks, and panic disorder is one of the most common reasons people seek help from the Ändern Centre . Panic attacks respond very well to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, with studies showing success rates of over 70%.
Although the expression anxiety attack and panic attack are often used interchangeable, there are some important differences in their presentation. An anxiety attack intensifies over a period of time and is strongly related to excessive worry. Panic attacks appear suddenly, sufferers report that it ‘comes out of the blue’, as they had not being feeling anxious before the panic attack occurred.
The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening, and include raised heartbeat, palpitations, nausea, butterflies in the stomach, dizziness, trembling, lightheadedness, feelings of unreality and wobbliness of the limbs. Any panic attack will usually be an unpleasant experience, though a single episode is not a sign of a psychological problem. However, if someone reports experiencing repeated panic attacks they might be suffering from Panic disorder.
Panic disorder results from a catastrophic fear of having further panic attacks. Sufferers report strong fears such as having a heart attack, going ‘crazy’, fainting in public, losing control or indeed dying.
CBT helps suffers learn that they are experiencing catastrophic unhelpful thinking about the potential consequences of their panic attacks. A good example of misplaced alarm is the common fear of fainting during a panic attacked. In order to faint, our blood pressure needs to drop dramatically in a short space of time. But when we are having a panic attack, the exact opposite happens. Our blood pressure rises quickly, which makes fainting extremely unlikely*.
Fear of further attacks usually lead to an avoidance of associated physical experiences. For example those fearing heart attacks might avoid situations that will cause their heart to noticeably beat faster. Or those fearing collapsing might avoid being in public in case something embarrassing might happen. Ironically, sufferers’ attempts to avoid further panic attacks by ‘keeping control’ can actually make it more likely they will bring attacks on.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Panic (and agoraphobia) involves learning to tolerate uncomfortable sensations, challenging our thinking, and overcoming the tendency to avoid and use safety behaviours. At the Ändern Centre treatment begins with a careful analysis of the specific situations that the panic sufferer finds challenging. At the same time, careful attention is given to the individual’s specific thoughts, feelings and behaviours in trigger situations. This understanding of specific reactions leads to the formation of an individualised CBT problem conceptualisation and treatment plan.
Safety behaviours are habits that sufferers believe help manage their panic, but generally prolong the problem instead . A prime example is people avoiding things like public transport, a more complicated example might entail sufferers increasingly limiting their life and finding it harder and harder even to get outside the front door. Such avoidance can become quite extreme, and lead to a closely linked condition, Agoraphobia, which is also very treatable using cognitive and behavioural methods.
* There are specific exceptions centred around reflexes most commonly observed around blood, vomit or needle phobia.