What is a Panic Attack? (definition and treatment)

Panic attacks, though not a threat to one’s physical health often are experienced as a feeling of impending doom combined with quick, shallow breathing, accelerated heart rate, excessive perspiration and even feelings of depersonalization(similar to an ‘out of body experience’). Often those experiencing panic attacks for the first time are caught by surprise and fear that they are dying. Some end up in doctor’s offices, even emergency rooms, convinced that they are experiencing a life threatening physical condition. Of course, once all physical disorders are ruled out, the E.R. doctor usually refers the patient to a therapist to treat this emotional anxiety disorder.

The most difficult aspect of experiencing a panic attack is that usually they seem to “come from nowhere”. Generally people experience panic attacks during situations that do not inherently feel threatening, or anxiety provoking. Rather, they often seem “free floating” in nature, not triggered by anything in one’s conscious awareness.

Panic attacks arise from one’s unconscious, where repressed anxieties can seem to “pop up” into consciousness in the form of this intense feeling of fear and dread. Due to the fact that one cannot predict when a panic attack will occur, the style of therapy that is most effective for long-term treatment of panic attacks is one that exposes one’s inner conflicts and repressed material. In this manner, insight and understanding of one’s self can eventually replace the internal fear and angst that originally caused the panic to occur. This treatment modality is the hallmark of insight oriented, psychodynamic therapy. By making the unconscious conscious, the power of one’s negative mood states such as depression, anxiety and anger, can be deflated, thus making these emotional experiences easier to cope with.

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