COUNSELING: What is a Panic Attack?

By Mary Griffin, BSN, MS, RN

Man experiencing panic attackPicture this: You are enjoying a walk at a park and suddenly you start to sweat, feel chest pain, and your heart races. You logically fear you are having a heart attack and call 911. In the emergency room, all the tests are normal and there is no sign of a heart attack. The doctor says you had a panic attack and sends you home.

You leave feeling very confused. How could the doctor be right? You had chest pain, and your heart was skipping beats, you felt numbness and you couldn’t catch your breath. You try to tell yourself to calm down but you can’t. The next day it happens again, you go to the emergency room, and they say you are fine. Next, you see your family doctor, have many medical tests, and they come back normal too.

** Remember that calling 911 and going to the ER are the right actions to take for symptoms like this. **

But you still have these symptoms and they happen suddenly, without warning. You try to figure out what you were doing when they happened. Maybe you were driving so you start to avoid driving alone. Perhaps you were at church so you avoid going to church when you most need your faith to help you. Your life becomes one of fear and anxiety and you begin to plan your days around trying to avoid having another attack.

If every test is normal and you are diagnosed with panic attacks, you may be left with fear that becomes the main focus of your daily life. You might ask, “When will the next attack come, how can I stop it from happening, and how can I live this way?”

Panic attacks are feelings of severe anxiety. Victims may have: Chest pain, Rapid pulse, Skipped heartbeats, Stomach pain, Dizziness, Shortness of breath, Numbness, Tingling, Fear of fainting, Fear of collapsing, Fear of losing control in front of others.

Treatment for panic attack victims may include:  Learning new ways to handle stress and anxiety, Identifying anxious thinking, Reframing, Challenging beliefs about symptoms, Thought-stopping, Mindfulness, Relaxation, Diaphragmatic breathing, Education.

Anchorpoint can help if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with panic attacks. It is important to get help soon after the first attack, if possible, so that your anxiety does not interfere with your life. Anchorpoint counselors use a variety of therapies to help clients learn to manage panic and anxiety. You will learn how to target your thinking and change thoughts that cause you to be afraid. People can recover from panic attacks and return to living life fully. Don’t wait if you or a loved one is suffering – please call Anchorpoint today at 412-366-1300.

Mary is a graduate intern at Anchorpoint. She will graduate this May and continue working for her LPC hours.  Mary practiced as a labor and delivery nurse for over 15 years in PA and Ohio.  She was a technical trainer for 20 years and she has also lead group therapy and taught Lamaze.