By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected increases or surges of intense fear. These waves of fear rise rapidly like the waves of the ocean. They normally reach maximum intensity within a few minutes. Panic attacks are levels of fear which far exceed the actual level of danger.
Having a single panic attack or mild levels of anxiety recurrently don’t meet the threshold to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Milder forms are often referred to as anxiety attacks. Severe forms of panic attacks are overwhelming. If your panic attacks become frequent and disabling, then you may be suffering from the more serious condition called Panic Disorder.
16 types of panic attacks.
Panic attacks are technically classified as one of the following 16 types. People who meet the criteria for a diagnosis of panic disorder are expected to have 4 or more of these symptoms. (The DSM-5, by the APA, combines several of these and lists them as 13 criteria.)
- Fear of dying. Not because the danger is real but because you are so scared you think you will die.
- Fear of going crazy.
- Fear of losing control.
- This can’t be real. Technically this is called Derealization.
- Is this me doing this? (Depersonalization.)
- Numb all over.
- Tingling – when your electrical system shorts out.
- Hot and cold flashes and you’re not menopausal.
- I think I will faint.
- My tummy hurts, and I may throw up.
- Is this the big one? – Heart pain.
- Choking again.
- I can’t breathe.
- Why am I shaking?
- Is it hot in the refrigerator? Why you may sweat in the snow.
- Your heart is trying to leave your body.
Many common reactions to intense fear are considered culturally approved and do not get counted to make up the definition of either panic attacks or Panic Disorder. These symptoms which may be an acceptable reaction to intense fear include pains in the neck, ringing in the ears, headaches, uncontrollable screaming, or uncontrollable crying.
If you experience panic attacks occasionally or because of particular stressors you may benefit from counseling or stress management training. If these panic attacks are recurrent, or interfere with work, relationships, upset you, or prevent you from enjoying other parts of your life you may have Panic Disorder. Untreated these conditions almost never get better on their own. With professional help, it is possible to overcome panic attacks or panic disorder.
FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5, some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions, please consult the DSM or other appropriate references. See Recommended Books. More “What is” posts will be found at “What is.”
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.