We define a panic attack as a sudden episode of intense fear when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening as the general feeling that accompanies them is that of losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
Many people will experience one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, if they’re going through a very stressful situation and then won’t experience them again. But if you experience recurrent, as well as frequent panic attacks over a period of time, and the associated constant fear of having another, you may have a condition called panic disorder. Although panic attacks aren't life threatening, they can significantly affect your quality of life so it might be advisable to consider a period of therapy in order to resolve them.
Symptoms of panic attacks
Panic attacks tend to begin suddenly and often without warning. They can strike at any time — when you're out on a walk, doing your food shopping or even sound asleep. Some people only experience sporadic panic attacks, while others might have up to 10 even 15 panic attacks a day making it incredibly difficult to carry out daily activities as the aftermath of a panic attack can leave you feeling worn out and fatigued.
Panic attacks typically include some of these signs or symptoms:
A sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Dizziness, or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation in fingers and arms
Feeling of unreality or not being in one’s body
One of the worst things about panic attacks is the inability to shake off the intense fear that you'll have another one. This can become a vicious circle as you may fear having panic attacks so much that you avoid certain situations where the other panic attacks occurred leading to avoidance and poor quality of life.
Therapy for panic attacks
Psychodynamic therapy draws heavily on Psychoanalytic theory which proposes that our mental life exists on two levels: within the realm of consciousness (our thoughts, feelings, memories etc), but also within a less accessible realm – what Freud called the unconscious (a deeper mental process not readily available to our conscious minds).
It’s from this deeper process that symptoms, which don’t seem to have a rational explanation, arise- such as in the case of a panic attack that comes about while you’re out doing your weekly shopping in your favourite supermarket – if you’re in your favourite supermarket, why are you suddenly feeling so scared?
The reason of this mysterious phenomena, according to psychoanalytic theory, is that our minds do not feel strong enough to metabolise feelings and thoughts that are considered taboo and so pushes them into the recesses of the mind. However it can never delete them for good, and they will keep coming back knocking on the conscious mind in the form and shape of a symptom.
As mentioned by this research paper by Busch & Co. Theory and Technique in Psychodynamic Treatment of Panic Disorder, it is persistent unconscious wishes that often underlie people's psychological symptoms, dreams, personalities, and life choices. Unconscious wishes are important underpinnings to panic symptoms, and this is the reason why it is valuable to become aware of these wishes with a goal of effecting symptomatic change.