What is a Panic Attack? | Manage Panic Disorder | Priory Dubai Mental Health News and Blog | Aspris Wellbeing Centres UAE

A panic attack is an intense and unexpected wave of fear. They often strike out of the blue, without any warning and sometimes with no clear cause. However, they can happen repeatedly, where they are triggered by something that previously left you feeling threatened or unable to escape.

Panic attacks can also occur as a result of a psychological disorder. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder may have a panic attack before talking in public, and someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have one when they are stopped from performing a ritual or compulsion.

How long do panic attacks last?

A panic attack will suddenly start and stop, where the intense fear or discomfort you feel will reach its peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less, and then begin to subside within 20-30 minutes.

Panic attacks can mimic the symptoms of heart diseases due to the intense effects they have on the body. People with panic disorders often visit emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they are having a heart attack or a life-threatening issue. You can read more about the signs in our blog post on panic attack symptoms.

What is a panic disorder and how is it different?

Though a single panic attack may only last a few minutes, the emotional toll of the experience can leave a lasting imprint. The memory can negatively impact your self-confidence and seriously disrupt your everyday life, eventually leading to panic disorder.

Someone with a panic disorder will experience repeated panic attacks, anticipatory anxiety and phobic avoidance. Anticipatory anxiety is when you can’t relax in between attacks, where you constantly feel nervous and tense as you worry about having another. This “fear of fear” can be extremely disabling. A phobic avoidance is then when you avoid situations or environments as you believe they caused a previous panic attack.

Taken to its extreme, phobic avoidance can become agoraphobia, where you are afraid that you will have a panic attack somewhere where it would be difficult or embarrassing to escape. You may also be afraid of having a panic attack in a place where you couldn’t get help. This can lead to avoidance of the following:

  • Crowded places such as shopping malls or sports arenas
  • Cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel
  • Social gatherings, restaurants, or other places where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack
  • Physical exercise in case it had previously triggered a panic attack
  • Certain food or drinks that could provoke panic, such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or specific medications
  • Going anywhere without the company of someone who makes you feel safe. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home

How can I manage panic attacks or a panic disorder?

Some people feel too embarrassed to open up about their panic attacks or panic disorder. They are uncomfortable saying that they are afraid, especially when they don’t have a specific reason or a trigger for their intense fear.

No matter how powerless or out of control you may feel, it’s important to know that many people suffer from panic attacks. We recommend learning about panic and anxiety, as simply knowing more can go a long way towards relieving your distress. You’ll find out that the sensations and feelings you have when you panic are normal - you aren’t going “crazy”, nor are you dying.

Other important tips for managing panic attacks and panic disorder include the following:

  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine as these can all provoke panic attacks in people who are susceptible. Also, be careful with medications that contain stimulants, such as non-drowsy cold medications.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and activities such as yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. When done regularly, they strengthen your ability to relax which can then counteract the effects of stress. In addition, they also increase feelings of joy and calmness.
  • Exercise regularly as it is a natural anxiety reliever. Try to get moving for at least 30 minutes on most days. Rhythmic aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming or dancing can be especially effective.
  • Get enough restful sleep as insufficient or poor quality sleep can make anxiety worse. Try to get seven to nine hours of restful sleep a night. If sleeping well is a problem for you, establishing a healthy sleep routine can help a lot.
  • Connect face-to-face with family and friends as symptoms of anxiety can worsen when you feel isolated. Regularly reach out to people who care about you, including those who show a genuine interest in what's going on in your life and who accept you for who you are.

Support and treatment available at Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai

At Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, our specialist psychiatrists and psychologists have a wealth of experience delivering treatment for panic attacks. We are committed to providing bespoke treatment plans that tackle the underlying causes and triggers, making sure that you achieve the best possible outcomes.

The most effective professional support is medical treatment and therapy. Alongside with medications, therapy can include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) which focuses on the thoughts and behaviours that are triggering and sustaining your panic attacks.
  • Exposure therapy for panic disorder which can help you to become less afraid of these internal bodily sensations and feel a greater sense of control over your panic.

At Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, your therapist will also be able to show you relaxation techniques to help control your breathing so that you can relieve the symptoms of panic and calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious.

If you’d like to find out more about the treatment programmes that we can provide for panic attacks and panic disorder, please make an enquiry online. To speak to someone in person, you can also receive a free telephone consultation by ringing (+971) 4 245 3800.

Dr Rasha Bassim, Specialist Psychiatrist

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Rasha Bassim (MBBch, MSc, MD Psychiatry, Specialist Psychiatrist) in March 2023, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in March 2024. Dr Bassim has more than 18 years’ psychiatric experience. Her extensive career started in Egypt, where she worked for 10 years, followed by four years in Kuwait; she has been practising in the UAE since 2013. As of 2014, Dr Bassim is also a qualified transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapist. View Dr Bassim's full profile here.