What is a panic attack?

According to Beyond Blue, up to 40% of people will experience a panic attack at some point in their life. So what exactly is a panic attack?

A panic attack includes four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Racing or pounding heart or heart palpitations
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chest pain, tightness or discomfort
  • Choking feelings
  • Sweating, chills or feeling hot all over
  • Nausea or stomach pains
  • Feeling short of breath or smothered
  • Feeling dizzy, numb, faint, lightheaded or unsteady
  • Derealisation (feeling like everything around you doesn’t feel real) or depersonalisation (feeling detached from yourself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying
Back of man, sitting at wooden desk, looking out of a window

Symptoms are sudden, intense and overwhelming

Panic attack symptoms can be experienced when we feel anxious about a particular situation or as a part of particular types of anxiety, such as generalised anxiety or social anxiety. The difference between generalised anxiety or social anxiety and panic attacks is that when someone is experiencing a panic attack the symptoms are sudden, intense and overwhelming.

Panic attacks can be triggered by particular situations or they can happen out of the blue. Panic attacks can feel like a “surge” or “wave” of terror suddenly washing over you. The symptoms of panic usually peak at around ten minutes and subside within about 30 minutes. As you can probably imagine panic attacks use up a huge amount of physical and mental energy. Afterwards you might find yourself feeling exhausted and shocked.

What is Panic Disorder?

Sometimes after experiencing a panic attack people can develop Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder involves reoccurring and unexpected panic attacks, ongoing worry about having another panic attack and concerns about what might happen during the panic attack. For example, people can develop fears about fainting, dying, “going crazy” or losing control. This can sometimes lead to avoidance of situations that might trigger anxiety or panic symptoms. Sometimes the fear of a panic attack becomes so strong that it becomes difficult or impossible to leave the house at all.

If you feel like you might be experiencing panic attacks or Panic Disorder the first step is to speak to your general practitioner (GP). It’s important that you have a thorough physical health assessment to ensure that your symptoms are a consequence of anxiety and not related to a medical condition. If your GP thinks that you may be experiencing panic attacks or Panic Disorder you may be eligible to get a referral for panic attack treatment with a clinical psychologist under the Medicare Mental Health Treatment Plan.

Explore panic attack treatments in Melbourne

When it comes to panic attacks, help is possible. Call us to make an appointment to get help and start addressing your panic attack symptoms.

At Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, each of our psychologists are experienced in panic attack treatments to help people to overcome panic attacks. We will support you with information and evidence-based tools that will help you to overcome your panic attacks.