Panic is the most extreme kind of anxiety reaction. It is a sudden rush of intense fear or anxiety. A panic attack is a terrifying experience during which it feels as if something catastrophic is about to happen to you.

Panic attacks can last for several minutes or sometimes longer. They escalate with alarming speed, making people think that if the panic continues increasing at such a rate ‘something really dreadful is about to happen’.

For some people, panic attacks can seem as if they have ‘come out of the blue’ for no apparent reason. However, others associate them with being in certain places or situations from which escape is perceived as being difficult or in which immediate help may not be available if a panic attack occurs. This anxiety can lead to them avoiding certain situations, for example, being in crowded places, using public transport, when travelling out of what they see as their comfort zone and so on.

Panic is one of the more common anxiety disorders. During the course of a year, approximately 2% of the population will experience panic attacks. It is estimated that around 20% of adults will experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime. It has been described as ‘an intense feeling of apprehension or impending doom which is of sudden onset and which is associated with a wide range of distressing physical sensations’. People will very often have a persistent concern about having more attacks in the future and can worry about the implications of the attack.

Some of the most common symptoms are :

  • Rapid heart beat, pounding heart or palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Choking sensations or lump in the throat
  • Fear of dying
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Sweating
  • Numbing or tingling sensations

Panic attacks can lead to a significant change in behaviour and how people live their lives.

CBT has been found to be extremely effective for treating panic disorder.

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