Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them
Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

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Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

1 What are panic attacks and panic disorder?

Described image
Figure 1 The overwhelming nature of panic attacks

According to the formal systems of psychiatric diagnosis (see Box 1):

  • Panic attacks are extreme experiences of sudden and overwhelming anxiety and fear.
  • Panic disorder is the regular experience of reoccurring panic attacks.

Box 1 Psychiatric diagnosis

Psychiatric diagnosis is the process by which mental health difficulties are ‘diagnosed’ or identified or labelled. There are two main systems of psychiatric diagnosis:

  • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is produced by the American Psychiatric Association, and which is a comprehensive manual of mental disorders, now in its fifth edition.
  • Chapter V of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) which is produced by the World Health Organization, and is currently in its tenth edition.

But are panic attacks the same as feeling panicky?

Activity 1 Identifying interpretations

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Is feeling panicky (e.g. because you are late) the same as experiencing a panic attack? Write your thoughts in the box below. Your comments will only be visible to you.

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Discussion

All of us probably feel panicky at some points but even if some of the feelings and sensations might be similar, the experience of a full-on panic attack is different as you will see when you hear people talking about their experience of panic attacks.

Feeling panicky may be a common human experience, but what makes individuals feel panic can vary widely. What everyday things or activities make someone feel panicky? Write your response in the box.

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Discussion

You may have listed common fears (like spiders) or fears that are quite personal to you. However one thing to note about panic attacks is that a common experience is that they happen apparently out of the blue – with no apparent trigger at all.

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