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Panic Attack Symptoms: Understanding and Overcoming Your Anxiety

What are Panic Attacks?

African American Man with hand covering his face feeling nervous

Chest tightening? Sweaty palms? Fast heartbeat? You may be having a Panic Attack!

Anxiety symptoms that are severe enough to be diagnosed as an Anxiety Disorder occur in about 18% of Americans, and about 3% of Americans experience Panic Disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Because the treatment of anxiety is one of my specialities, I have seen many individuals in my practice who have experienced Panic Attacks.  Most people tell me that they are terrified of the attacks and are afraid something dangerous is happening in their bodies.  Others tell me they fear they are losing their mind.  These thoughts are common.  But the good news is that while panic attacks feel very physical, nothing dangerous is happening in your body.  And you are not losing your mind either!  It’s just your body’s way of letting you know that you have accumulated too much emotional baggage, and that you need better techniques to get rid of it.  That’s where therapy can help!

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Symptoms of Panic Attacks include:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

What’s the Difference between Anxiety and Panic?

Anxiety is a broad categories of symptoms, while panic attacks are a specific way in which anxiety can express or manifest itself.  For example, OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Excessive Worry, Obsessive Thoughts, and Specific Phobias such as Social Phobia are all different ways in which your anxiety might express itself.  With Panic Disorder, your anxiety is expressing itself with several physical symptoms.  It can feel as if something is medically or physically wrong, but if you are having a panic attack, nothing is physically wrong.  What you are experiencing is actually psychological, and can be very effectively treated with psychotherapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Insight-Oriented and PsychoDynamic Therapy, and PsychoEducational Counseling.

Causes of Panic Attacks

While you may come across anxiety book or workbook authors or even pharmaceutical company commercials telling you that anxiety is genetic, biological, or the result of “chemical imbalance”, the truth is that there is no conclusive evidence of that.  No gene for anxiety has been identified.  What we do know is that it’s more likely to develop an Anxiety Disorder if you had at least one anxious parent, but that does not mean something in your genetic code is causing it.  It is more likely that an anxious parent’s parenting style induces anxiety in children.

There are also other causes of anxiety and panic such as trauma, the use of certain drugs, ongoing exposure to intense stress, and hormonal changes.

Is Medication Treatment a Good Option for Panic Disorder?

Medication can relieve panic and anxiety symptoms in the short-term, but the medications prescribed for panic attacks (benzodiazepines) are highly addictive.  Also, medication does not actually get rid of or treat the underlying cause of your attacks, it simply reduces or stops the symptoms when they start.  Ultimately, the only effective way of permanently getting rid of panic attacks is psychotherapy.

Therapy for Panic Attacks in Plantation Florida

In my therapy and counseling practice in Plantation, Florida (central Broward County), I routine treat individuals for panic disorder.  I mentioned some of the therapies earlier in this post, such as CBT Therapy or DBT Therapy, that are very effective in reducing or eliminating panic attacks.  Now, these treatments don’t work in one or two session, but with consistent therapy over a few months, most individuals get relief.



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