Everything you need to know about panic attacks

Panic attacks are a common mental health condition, experienced by almost everyone at some point in their lifetime. Often accompanied by anxiety, they can be extremely debilitating. But with the right therapy, they are reversible. Let’s take a look at the causes, symptoms and available treatment options.

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What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and unexpected episode of intense fear or anxiety that can develop quickly and last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. During a panic attack, a person may experience symptoms such as a fast heartbeat, sweating, shaking, and difficulty breathing. Often there is no specific trigger for the attack – they can happen to anyone, at any time, and for no apparent reason.

 

What causes a panic attack?

Both the brain and the nervous system play a role in panic attacks. Firstly, the brain's amygdala and insula become hyper-aroused, making a person more sensitive to perceived threats. This triggers the sympathetic nervous systems ‘fight or flight’ response which releases stress hormones and accompanying unpleasant symptoms. When the amygdala and insula eventually calm down, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes activated, allowing the body to relax and return to a state of balance.

Panic attacks may be caused by an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This could be due to a persons life experiences, or it could be genetic as research suggests that panic attacks run in families.

 

What are the signs of a panic attack?

Panic attacks can feel different for everyone, but some common symptoms include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fear of losing control or dying
  • A feeling that something bad will happen
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How to treat panic attacks?

Although the brain and nervous system can become overactive, they can also be rewired in the opposite direction through a process called ‘brain retraining’. Brain retraining occurs through the repetition of certain exercises which teach the brain and nervous system that they are safe. Over time, this calms the amygdala and insula, moves the nervous system into a parasympathetic state and reduces the likelihood of panic attacks. One well-known type of brain retraining is The Gupta Program, which is designed to treat panic attacks and anxiety by directly targeting the amygdala and insula.

In addition to brain retraining, lifestyle changes such as exercise, yoga, or meditation can also provide relief. These activities have been proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can calm the amygdala and insula.

If you are interested in finding out whether brain retraining is right for you, sign up to the Gupta Program’s free trial. Or, start your healing journey today as part of our recovery community.

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