Panic Attacks and Phobias

What is a Panic Attack?

Many people develop panic disorder following a major life stress or a build up of stress. A panic attack is best described as a sudden and acute onset of extreme fear that seems to come ‘out of the blue’. Intense and uncomfortable physical symptoms include increased heart rate, nausea, numbness, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, inability to concentrate, and confusion.

The intensity of the attack can be extremely severe and can in some instances feel as though you are having a heart attack or are about to lose consciousness or lose control of your mind.
The physical and mental reactions to a panic attack are the same as the real situation of fear, only in reality there is rarely a danger and thoughts and feelings are irrational.

A Panic Disorder develops when you feel that you are constantly on the alert for the next spontaneous attack and that there is a pattern of continuous fear and tension. Having panic attacks does not necessarily mean that you have a panic disorder. If all your panic attacks occur in social situations, you may have Social Anxiety.

Panic attacks mean that nerve endings within the body have become sensitised and it may take the body some time to be de-sensitised, for the nerve endings to recover and for the adrenalin increase to slow down.

If you have panic disorder, the chances are very high that you have altered your life in some significant way in an effort to prevent or avoid additional panic attacks. It is common, for instance, for people to limit their travel; to restrict their driving – avoiding motorways or longer journeys from home, to avoid large crowds of people and in general, to attempt to avoid any activity from which “escape” may be difficult.

Or maybe you don’t avoid anything, but you do things differently than before. You might take your partner or a friend to go to places you would previously visit alone. You may sit at the end of an aisle of seats to make a swift exit in case it’s necessary. Maybe you do everything the same way you used to, but you go through a lot of nervous anticipation ahead of time.

If you avoid a lot of ordinary activities and circumstances in case you have a panic attack, you may be diagnosed as ‘agorophobic’. The vast majority of people with agoraphobia are not housebound. Though this can happen in very severe cases.

Specific Phobias

This means that you tend to experience extreme anxiety under very specific circumstances. You may well try to avoid those circumstances, even if you realise that your fear is excessive and unreasonable. Common examples are planes, enclosed places; bridges; bugs and spiders, reptiles, injections and the sight of blood; vomiting. Some things are more common than others, but anything can become the object of a specific phobia. In fact there are over 375 listed different types of phobia, each with its own label!

Social Phobias

This means that you tend to panic in social and performance situations. Generally speaking, there is a fear of public humiliation, rejection, or disgrace. If you have a social phobia you may experience panic in the following circumstances:

  • Public speaking
  • Meetings
  • Playing sports for an audience
  • Eating in a restaurant
  • Using public conveniences
  • Playing a musical instrument / acting / singing for an audience
  • Writing a cheque or form filling in front of others

 

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“I was experiencing sudden acute anxiety regarding boarding an aircraft, which as a frequent flyer, made no sense to me. I felt utterly incapable of flying. I now feel extraordinarily much calmer and confident and am looking forward to a holiday in the West Indies. The sessions helped me enormously. I now feel confident to fly and also have the tools to deal with all negative and restrictive thoughts. I found the whole process fascinating and constructive. I wish I could have consulted you years ago.”
Frank, 58  – Company Director

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