Pulling the fuse on panic attacks.
When experienced for the first time, panic attacks are often misinterpreted as a general medical condition. Many believe that they are suffering from a heart attack and subsequently seek help from medical professionals. This is not surprising given that panic attacks are comprised of distinct periods of severe discomfort involving chest pain, heart palpitations, profuse sweating, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and many other symptoms. It usually lasts for approximately 5-10 minutes, but it might take a few hours to fully recover from the episode. Moreover, panic attacks often occur at random or out of the blue thus causing great distress for those who suffer from this condition.
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But what exactly are panic attacks? Panic attacks are defined as discrete periods of extreme anxiety triggered by environmental stressors (external triggers) or slight changes in our physiology (internal triggers). A number of substances including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol (i.e. stimulants) are also known to increase the likelihood of experiencing panic attacks. Once a trigger has been activated, we experience a certain degree of discomfort which is interpreted in catastrophic terms, e.g. ‘I am dying!’ or ‘There is something seriously wrong with me!’ It is these interpretations that eventually lead to a full-blown panic attack and all the other symptoms that we associate with it. Treatment usually factors on a combination of preventative and coping measures to reduce the frequency and intensity. These may include relaxation exercises, physical exercise, conflict management skills, assertiveness training, and most importantly of all, cognitive restructuring where we challenge our thinking patterns in response to the triggers related to panic attacks.