Panic Attacks: What Therapies Are Available?
Anyone who has suffered from a panic attack knows how frightening and debilitating it can be. Out of the blue, you find your heart beating rapidly, your breath getting shorter, you start trembling and sweating, and it’s difficult to control your emotions.
The fact that it can happen at any time and anywhere is also very challenging.
Everyone is likely to experience some level of anxiety at times in their life. That anxiety may even spill over into panic in severe circumstances.
For those with a panic disorder, however, these kinds of events occur regularly and have a significant impact on their life, their confidence and their ability to function normally.
The cause of panic attacks is very well understood, and they are often associated with major life transitions. These can include getting married, having a baby or even moving to a new job. In some cases, they may be influenced by past traumatic events that impact on how we view certain situations.
The best treatment for panic disorder and panic attacks involves therapeutic approaches, including CBT or EMDR. Medication is only really used when the symptoms are too severe, and the effect potentially life-threatening.
- A typical attack will reach its peak in about 10 minutes and can last as long as to an hour.
- Once that first panic attack has occurred, many people live in fear of it happening again.
- Panic attacks may act as precursors of other mental health problems such as agoraphobia which can make individuals avoid certain situations such as crowds or even stepping outdoors.
CBT and Panic Attacks
The most common approach to helping someone tackle and come to terms with their panic attacks is cognitive behaviour therapy or CBT. It regularly outperforms other methods including control through medication which is generally seen as a last resort (and not very effective in the long term).
CBT is also called talking therapy, and it involves exploring the cause of panic attacks and the thoughts and feelings that go with this kind of behaviour. CBT then looks for ways to ‘rephrase’ the individual’s approach to the panic attacks and find coping mechanisms and solutions that work for them.
This is done with help from a qualified therapist over 1-3 sessions. Ways that can help include:
- Using relaxation: Training in this area gives the individual the tools they need to reduce anxiety levels that often precede a panic attack.
- Cognitive restructuring: The patient and therapist work together to identify negative thoughts or behaviours that contribute to their panic attacks and find ways to restructure these, so they are more favourable.
- Exposure treatment: In some cases, continued exposure to panic attacks or the elements that lead to them can help reduce the impact. This needs to be done under controlled conditions with the therapist.
No one person is the same when it comes to mental health. A qualified CBT therapist has to work with the individual closely to explore the issues that are causing their attacks, hopefully finding the right approach and practical solutions that help to reverse things.
Can EMDR Help Combat a Panic Attack?
EMDR or eye movement desensitisation reprocessing was developed in the late 80s and has proven useful in treating psychological conditions such as PTSD, panic attacks, phobias, fears and self-esteem. It uses eye movements, audio stimulation or hand tapping to help unblock and remove intense emotional responses. It, therefore, makes sense that it is an effective therapy for panic attacks.
- The individual is guided through their memories, recalling a traumatic event such as the first panic attack.
- The person recalls that particular event and how it made them feel both physically and emotionally.
- The therapist will typically get the individual to move their eyes from side to side, often in response to a stimulus such as light
- Additionally could be used alternate audio sounds in the right and left ear or tapping on the right and then left hands in a complicated
EMDR allows the individual to break the association between their feelings, thoughts and sensations when it comes to a panic attack and lessen the impact. Over time, this helps them have more control. This kind of treatment is often used in conjunction with CBT and mindfulness.
Using Mindfulness to Cope with Panic Attacks
Mindfulness is another therapeutic approach that enables the individual who suffers from panic attacks to take greater control. Mindful approaches are all about changing our relationship with the world around us.
For instance, it can help us step back and look at our behaviour, feelings and sensations in a non-judgemental way. We often rush through life without paying enough attention to what is happening. Mindfulness is all about being in the moment, noticing it and then making the best decisions on one’s life.
Recent research has undoubtedly shown that greater mindfulness has the potential to reduce feelings of anxiety. It’s a process that anyone can learn and which can have immediate effects on the individual. Thoughts aren’t facts, and we can reframe how we feel about a situation at any given moment.
For example, if a person is feeling overly anxious, something that acts as a precursor to a panic attack, they can use a mindfulness approach to question their reaction. They can then use techniques such as breathing exercises to reduce anxiety and feel more centred. This, in turn, makes having a panic attack less likely.
While this technique can be challenging to learn, with the help of a qualified therapist, individuals can quickly make it a part of their daily routine. In conjunction with other therapeutic approaches, it has the potential to have a huge impact on how difficult situations and triggers are better managed.
Finding a Therapist in London
Panic attacks are more common than many of us think. They can have a detrimental effect on people’s lives, and it’s vital to find solutions that work. If you live in the London area and want to find out how CBT, EMDR and mindfulness could help with your panic attacks, the team at Positive Mind Practice are here to help.
Contact us today to book an appointment and the chance to explore a life free from panic attacks.