I have worked with clients who have suffered with terrible anxiety- to the extent where they felt that they were literally ‘under attack’ by an overwhealming feeling of panic causing a variety of both physical and emotional symptoms. Hence why I feel the term ‘anxiety’ or ‘panic’ ‘attack’ is quite a fitting description!
So what is an anxiety attack?
Severe anxiety attacks or panic attacks could be described as an overwhelming feeling or emotion of anxiety and fear that a person experiences. Panic attacks can be extremely frightening for the individual. They can strike at any time and some of the symptoms can include: chest pain, dry mouth, heart palpitations, and fear of losing control, trembling, sweating, feeling dizzy and faint and various other symptoms. The psychological symptoms of panic attacks can include difficulty with concentrating, irritability, depression and a failure to relax. Furthermore, panic attacks can also be related to agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is a feeling of being trapped or unable to escape which can often trigged the panic attack symptoms. People with agoraphobia often restrict their activities as a result of feeling trapped in certain situations. E.g. avoiding social events, travelling etc. Panic attacks is often a vicious cycle. These intense symptoms once triggered, can further reinforce the individual’s fear as this can lead to catastrophizing, e.g. ‘my heart is beating rapidly I’m having a heart attack and am going to die!’
So what are some of the main points to consider when dealing with anxiety attacks?
- Rule out any medical issues that may be causing symptoms
It’s essential that such clients have seen their medical practitioners with regards to their symptoms- to rule out any physical health concerns which might be a possibility or may even be exacerbating the symptoms of axiety. The client’s doctor should be their first point of call with regards to experiencing severe anxiety attacks. It’s important to note that the symptoms of anxiety attacks can often mask several health concerns such as having a heart attack for example which is why its imperative that the client has seen their doctor before commencing any therapeutic work with regards to treating the panic attacks.
- Educate yourself!
I also find it helps to explain to clients the physiological changes that occur during panic attacks e.g. the ‘flight and fight’ response where chemicals within the body such as adrenalin are released and how this can often evoke the same feelings of perceiving a life threatening situation which can cause physiological changes within the body. These symptoms can mimic the symptoms of a panic attack e.g. increased heartbeat, sweating, rapid breathing etc. Even allowing client’s to give examples of situation where they experienced the ‘flight or fight’ response can help clients to recognise panic attacks as ‘normal’ bodily reactions which can be controlled through effective coping strategies and counselling techniques. (Reeves 2013)
- Anxiety isn’t alaways bad!
Finally, anxiety may not always be considered as a negative- and this could also be highlighted to the client. For example, during exams a decent level of anxiety can help with students to concentrate and focus more. Of course if anxiety is overwhelming or inappropriate this is where it becomes problematic. (Reeves 2013) Encouraging the client to develop an awareness, recognise the beginnings of a panic attack and encourage positive self talk e.g. ‘just because my hearts beating faster doesn’t mean Im having a heart attack’, can all aid the client in developing a more positive awareness with regards to their symptoms.
- Learn ways to chill..
Finally, finding ways to cope with the anxiety can make a huge difference to the way you feel and help to reduce the number of panic attacks. For example, finding a relaxing hobby; yoga, meeting with friends, painting etc. Finding ways to relax and tecnhiques to help with the anxiety can really help. Seeking help from a therapist, cousellor can also help to address any underlying causes and you can also learn useful tools to help cope with the anxiety attacks.
For professional therapeutic help with dealing with anxiety attacks do feel free to get in touch
Image above: young man panicked or scared by Stuart Miles courtesy of Free images.net