By Steve Reed at the Psychotherapy Center
What are Panic Attacks?
Panic Attacks, Anxiety Attacks, and Panic Disorder are all terms used interchangeably by most people to describe the same overwhelming, frightening, and distressing type of experience.
Panic attacks are an experience of intense fear that is caused by a false alarm response. They may occur in specific situations – both consistently and sporadically – or entirely unexpectedly and are accompanied by extreme physical discomfort and highly intense physical symptoms. The limbic system of the brain (emotional mid-brain) is associated with anxiety in general, while the amygdala (the brain's primitive alarm center) is heavily involved in panic attacks in the form of the fight/flight system, an automatic response to danger. In addition to these biological factors, psychological contributions (such as a sense of loss of control and traumatic events in the past) and social contributions (such as a stressful life) also impact the predisposition for experiencing panic and anxiety (Durand & Barlow, 2003).
How Long Does a Panic Episode Last?
Panic attacks begin abruptly. They often hit a peak within 10 minutes. Although most panic attacks rarely last beyond one hour in duration, it is common for them to last up to 30 minutes.¹ This can feel like an eternity to anyone suffering from this type of overwhelming experience. Anxiety attacks can also be accompanied by an automatic negative thought that 'the panic attack may never end'. This only adds more fuel to the flames of anxiety.
Affect of Panic Episodes | Predisposition to Panic Episodes
Panic attacks can lead to severe social and occupational problems, the long-term need for mental health care, and an increased risk of suicide attempts. They are among the most common symptoms treated in therapy. Panic episodes can occur at night, in the morning, at home, at work, while driving, flying, when alone, or in a crowd. Predisposing factors for panic disorder include being middle to older age, being married, and having higher education (Goodwin & Andersen, 2002). However, anyone can experience such anxiety symptoms. Both men and women suffer from panic attacks. The need for an appropriate treatment approach is apparent.
Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks Symptoms
“… I woke up with this vague feeling of apprehension … my heart started pounding … my chest hurt; it felt like I was dying …” (Durand & Barlow, 2003, 117).
Common panic attack symptoms are heart palpitations and pounding, sweating, trembling, shaking, shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, abdominal distress, dizziness, feeling lightheaded, feelings of unreality, fear of losing control, fear of going crazy, fear of dying, numbness, tingling sensations, chills, and hot flushes (American Psychiatric Association, 2004). One or more of these symptoms can occur in any combination and they usually can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. In order to be diagnosed with panic attacks, four of these symptoms have to be present and cause acute discomfort. The symptoms of panic attacks are generally more severe than those of general anxiety and their intensity may lead to a fear of the symptoms itself, possibly intensifying them even more. Avoiding certain situations that cause panic attacks, however, may lead to further social impairment by withdrawing from everyday life.
Common treatments for panic disorder have been a wide variety of drugs, such as tranquilizers and antidepressants, which may have unwanted side effects and lead to dependency. The relapse rate is 20 to 90% (depending on the type of drug used) when medication is stopped.
Exposure Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Psychological interventions for panic attacks include exposure-based treatments, reality testing, teaching coping skills, and relaxation training, all of which appear to be helpful but frequently some anxiety and panic attacks will remain. Exposure treatments combined with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have shown more promising results, while a combination of CBT and drug treatment has not proven to be beneficial (Durand & Barlow, 2003).
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy has an exposure therapy element as part of its protocol. It also adds to the benefits of exposure therapy by using patterns of rapid eye movements that have been shown to soothe the sympathetic nervous system.
In contrast to cognitive therapy and medical interventions, Quick REMAP (Reed, 2006) works with the limbic system directly, which is the “emotional brain”, rather than with the “thinking brain”. The “thinking brain” is surpassed by a sudden fight-or-flight reflex or panic attack. The Quick REMAP approach is based on the assumption that thinking and logic are not able to reach the source of the problem causing the panic attack when emotions are too intense. Quick REMAP calms the limbic system (such as experiences of stress or trauma) and restores access to our thinking brain. It manages to quickly reduce the intensity of emotions and thereby extinguishes the source of the problem without long and emotionally painful treatments, as well as without medication.
Quick REMAP uses evidence-based acupressure points, the activation of which eases intense emotional distress and overwhelming experiences. With an easing of emotional distress, a change in the person’s thinking can be observed immediately. This then results in a different perspective of painful experiences or situations that used to cause intense fear. In the end, both the “emotional brain” and the “thinking brain” have been helped effectively, and the source of the panic attacks has been eliminated for good. Quick REMAP has provided striking and quick results that tend to be long-lasting.
Help for Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks
Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT is the REMAP process developer, an expert in the treatment of panic attacks and anxiety attacks as well as other anxiety disorders including PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. If you are experiencing panic attacks while flying, during airplane turbulence, driving on highways or bridges, at work, while public speaking, during social events, at night, in the morning, or any other time, you can get help.
Steve Reed is available for an office appointment for your counseling and psychotherapy needs in the Dallas, Fort Worth, DFW metroplex, including Addison, Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Carrollton, Colleyville, Denton, Euless, Fairview, Flower Mound, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Highland Park, Hurst, Irving, Keller, Lake Highlands, Lewisville, Lucas, McKinney, Mesquite, Murphy, Plano, Richardson, Rockwall, Rowlett, South Lake, and University Park. He provides therapy at his office in Richardson, TX.
Treatment is also available via phone and video appointments to people worldwide.
To schedule an appointment, please call 972-997-9955. Steve can also be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Durand, V. M. & Barlow, D. H. (2003). Essentials of abnormal psychology (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Thomson Learning.
Goodwin, R. & Andersen, R. M. (2002). Use of the Behavioral Model of Health Care Use to identify correlates of use of treatment for panic attacks in the community. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 37(5), 212-219.