You can’t breathe… your heart is pounding…dizziness… you just want it to stop! You feel a sense of dread… of overwhelming fear... oh no I might die like this, unable to breath…unable to stop this... it just goes on and on. You’ve just had a panic attack and you’re afraid you’ll have another one.
Panic attacks are intensely uncomfortable and painful but are generally not life threatening. They are difficult to deal with on your own and will get worse without treatment. It pains me to hear that someone is suffering from them; thinks they have to live with them their whole life or that they are not curable. They are treatable.
Generally, there are three underlying issues that create panic attacks. The first one is isolation and feeling alone. This is when a person feels like they have to figure the situation/issue out on their own without support of friends or family. The panic emerges when they feel the loneliest.
To help with isolation, start developing a support system around you. Someone who you can go to and use them as a sounding board to work through problems where you don’t feel alone in the things you struggle with.
The second is powerlessness. Panic attacks often have some dynamic that the person feels powerlessness is some aspect of their life, especially in close relationships such as a romantic partner or a parent/child relationship. The person often feels controlled through guilt and they do not have any choices in the situation.
You have a choice about everything in your life and if you feel that you don’t then you have given that choice away to someone else. Take time to start building healthy boundaries to regain control of your life.
The third is when a person struggles with perfectionism or people pleasing. If this duo is combined it is more likely to compel a panic attack. A person struggling with perfectionism and trying to please others turns to “all or nothing” types of thinking. Their thoughts turn to extreme “what ifs” trying to make sure the “right” thing is done. Then in comes the panic attack when they hit what they feel is an impossible situation.
To help with the third issues it is about challenging your own thoughts and beliefs. This can be the hardest challenge because you have developed this over time. Sometimes, family beliefs or spousal dynamics need to be explored to find the root of the problem and heal from it.
It pains me when I hear that someone thinks that their panic attacks are not curable. Through good psychotherapy, I believe panic attacks can be healed because I have seen it successfully happen over and over again. It is hard to do it alone and you do not have to. We are here to help.
Trish Pauls, MA RP
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