Panic Attacks

When you have your first panic attack, it’s not unusual to think you are having a heart attack or that you are ‘about to die’ for some unknown reason. However, panic attacks are not dangerous to the systems of the body or to a person’s immediate physical health. Still, panic attacks are disorienting and disturbing and can also be highly embarrassing when they occur in the presence of other people.

where, when and why do panic attacks occur?

Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at anytime, and the health care field openly acknowledges the fact that we are not precisely sure what causes them. The many people I’ve helped over the years in therapy—to eliminate panic attacks—have had these episodes in a number of different settings: driving on the New York City streets, leading a meeting at work, riding an NYC subway, flying in an airplane, giving a speech/presentation, engaging in an argument, during sleep (which is more common than you might think), exercising at New York Sports Club, having sex and more.

In a panic attack, the nervous system spontaneously and abruptly goes into overdrive and revs up to the point where you are sweating, disoriented and hyperventilating. That itself is disconcerting, but add to it the fact that there is nothing in your environment that seems to have caused it and you end up thinking, “I am losing my mind.”

The good news is that once you decide to seek therapy for panic attacks, it is often the case that the panic attacks begin to decrease (in frequency and/or intensity) immediately. This is an important aspect of human life and a central premise of effective therapy: Once you stop staying alone with the reality of what’s going on in your life, things start to get better.

tools & techniques to eliminate panic attacks

When I help people with panic attacks in therapy, I provide them with practical tools and techniques right away so they can start managing their emotions more effectively. My approach is active and pragmatic and gets people feeling better quickly. Then the growth work begins.

By “growth work” I mean to say that once we get your panic attacks under control, we take a look at your life. This is because panic attacks (or any mental health challenges) do not take place in a vacuum or mysteriously come of out nowhere; they have something to do with what’s going on for you internally (patterns of thinking and feeling) and externally (relationships, career, etc.). In other words, therapy for panic attacks begins with symptom reduction and stabilization, and it progresses into helping you build and shape your life in ways that promote psychological and emotional health.

emotional health comes from emotional growth

When you increase your emotional regulation skills in order to decrease/prevent panic attacks, it helps you on a number of different levels: mood management, self-discipline, peace of mind, healthier relationships and increased focus/clarity. To cultivate these important abilities within yourself is to cultivate your capacity for emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is valuable to human performance/experience on a variety of levels; in fact, emotional intelligence is generally thought to be more important than intellectual intelligence if what we’re interested in is personal well being and healthy relationships.

anxiety & panic attacks

People who seek therapy for panic attacks have invariably been suffering with anxiety as well.

If you imagine a beach ball being held under water and the force with which it ‘wants’ to come to the surface—then you begin to get an idea of how anxiety and panic attacks work. Unhealthy and destructive anxiety stems from insufficient/inadequate processing of ordinary emotional experiences over time—to the point where you become habituated into building up feelings that ‘want’ to come out. Unfortunately, once there is a build-up, people are not quite sure how to release and process their feelings in ways that are healthy and growthful. This creates the conditions for potential panic attacks.

addiction & panic attacks

In order to self-medicate the discomfort of anxiety and panic attacks, people often turn to excessive use of alcohol, food, drugs, pills, pornography, gambling, casual sex or the myriad other ways that humans are wired to feel good.

These activities can be used in healthy ways, in moderation, but I see many people in my NYC therapy practice who have developed an over-reliance on one or more of these 'brain-rewarding' behaviors. As we know, excessive dependency (i.e. obsessions and compulsions that represent early stage addiction) on such behaviors is self-defeating and, if not nipped in the bud, can evolve into full blown addiction.

seeking therapy for anxiety and panic attacks

If you are experiencing excessive anxiety and/or panic attacks in your life, you can take some comfort in the fact that you are suffering from something very common and highly treatable. You need not suffer alone.

What you need is help in learning to effectively identify and process what is going on for you psychologically, socially and emotionally—so that you can eliminate panic attacks, decrease anxiety and create more confidence and internal calm. And this is precisely where therapy can help.