Eight Myths about Panic Attacks

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This video describes eight myths regarding panic attacks. A panic attack is a period of intense fear anxiety and worry that also has physical symptoms associated with it like increased heart rate, trembling, dizziness, and sweating.
Myth number one is if you have panic attacks you have panic disorder. Panic attacks are a symptom of a number of mental health disorders and in and of themselves don’t represent a mental health disorder. There is no panic attack disorder, rather panic disorder is one of the disorders that has panic attacks associated with it.
Myth number two is that panic attacks lead to a psychotic disorder. There’s a fear with panic attacks that they must be indicative of something more serious and it doesn’t help that during panic attacks some people experience depersonalization and derealization. We even hear presentations where there are sometimes auditory and visual hallucinations. A disorder characterized by psychosis is much different than a lot of disorders that have panic attacks as a feature. Panic attacks don’t lead to any type of psychotic disorder, but sometimes panic attack symptoms can occur at the same time as psychosis caused by another mental health disorder.
Myth number three is that you can avoid panic attacks by avoiding triggers. This is a bit of a tricky myth because with social anxiety disorder for example, one can avoid some panic attacks by avoiding triggers, but with panic disorder the panic attacks are unexpected and there is no real trigger. The trigger would be worrying about another panic attack. This myth is not as clear-cut, though we usually think of as a bad idea to make a concerted effort to avoid triggers in the long run. Avoiding triggers often restricts someone’s life and blocks off more and more activities.
Myth number four is that panic attacks can cause somebody to lose control. Generally, panic attacks don’t cause somebody to be aggressive or violent or lose control in any way.
Myth number five is that panic attacks can cause fainting or passing out. Only rarely is this the case. Generally, panic attacks really work in the other direction. Somebody would be more ramped up be ready for more activity rather than being set up to faint or pass out.
Myth number six is that panic attacks can last for hours. Normally, we see panic attacks reach their peak in about five to ten minutes and then they start subsiding. The effects of panic attacks can certainly be felt for hours. Usually somebody will feel anxious, drained, and physically tired after a panic attack, but the actual period of intense fear and the physical symptoms usually peaks about five ten minutes and then starts to improve over the next few minutes.
Myth number seven is that breathing techniques don’t help. Breathing has an interesting relationship with panic attacks. A lot of times we hear the advice with panic attacks that somebody should take deep breaths. This is actually usually a bad idea. When we think of panic attacks one of the concerns is hyperventilation, but hyperventilation doesn’t really have anything to do with getting too little oxygen, rather it has to do with having too little carbon dioxide. Deep breathing will actually lower the amount of carbon dioxide and could make a panic attack a bit worse. That doesn’t mean that breathing techniques are a bad idea or don’t help. The kind of breathing that helps normally during a panic attack is normal breathing. The kind that helps is breathing slowly at a measured pace. Breathing techniques are actually a major part of coping with panic attacks.
Myth number eight is that panic attacks can’t be treated. Panic attacks are potentially symptoms of mental health disorders. Treatment effectiveness of panic attacks really depends on what mental health disorders, if any, are operating and what symptoms of those mental health disorders are being addressed in treatment. Even though panic attacks are extremely distressing, they’re not always the priority for a client receiving treatment with a mental health disorder that could lead to panic attacks. Panic attacks can be treated, but in terms of how effective treatment is, it really depends on the priorities. Also, each individual is different and responds differently to treatment. It is a myth that panic attacks can’t be treated, but it’s important to recognize there are a lot of variables that influence the effectiveness of that treatment.

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