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Human beings, like all other animals, evolved the “fright and flight” response as a protective mechanism. The response involves, among other things, the secretion of extra adrenaline, and an increase in the heart rate, along with a sense of urgency or terror. When we’re really facing a dramatic event that we need to flee from, the fright and flight response keeps us safe. But when we suffer the symptoms of fright and flight even when there’s no immediate threat, it’s known as having panic attacks.
Panic attacks, which can include symptoms such as a heavily pounding heart, shortness of breath, sweating and dizziness, can have a terrible effect on quality of life. They can come “out of the blue”, leaving the victim very vulnerable. Panic attacks can be triggered by a range of stimuli. For one person a panic attack might start when they are on the train on their commute home and the carriage becomes overly full. The sensation of being in a crowded space might make them feel as though they can’t breathe or move, triggering a full scale panic attack. For someone else, a trigger could be finding themselves all alone in a large, empty space, or being faced with the need to make an important decision very quickly.
Panic attacks are quite common; at the milder end of the spectrum, they occur in many people. They can become very problematic when they are severe or frequent – or both.
Why do people get panic attacks?
Some people are prone to panic attacks because of a traumatic experience in their past, while others suffer panic attacks alongside another underlying condition, such as agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress, or OCD. Some people get panic attacks in the wake of suffering a recent setback or problem, such as bereavement or the loss of a job. However, we don’t always know what the cause is.
Panic with agoraphobia
People who have had panic attacks before sometimes deal with the situation by avoiding situations or places where it’s happened before. Often, this results in avoiding public spaces such as shopping areas, public transport, or anywhere people gather. This avoidance can lead to agoraphobia. As a result of this, they tend to feel safe only in a very restricted world, and to be immensely anxious about when the next panic attack will come.
What can help?
In the short term, medication can provide some relief, but for lasting change, psychotherapy can make a big difference. By using cognitive behavioural therapy, an accredited therapist can work with you to completely overcome the disorder using a combination of exposure therapy and other techniques. You will work both in and outside of the therapy room to completely desensitise you to the symptoms of panic so that you no longer need to worry about further panic attacks being triggered. For more information of how panic disorder treatment works watch this video below. To see some of the techniques used in panic attack treatment watch the video at the top of the page.
How can I get therapy for panic attacks in London?