Panic attacks are intensely physical events, where an individual experiences chest pain, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms – combined with a feeling of doom that can cause those with panic attacks to genuinely feel like they are about to die, or that something terrible is about to happen.
Even though panic attacks tend to occur when no danger is present, the rationality of a panic attack is often irrelevant. The experience itself can leave a person feeling like they just experienced something terrible. It is because of this that it’s reasonable to ask if panic attacks are, themselves, a type of trauma.
Panic Attack and Trauma Responses
We know that trauma can cause panic attacks. One of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is panic attacks when faced with trauma triggers.
But can panic attacks also be their own type of trauma?
There’s no clear answer to this, but there are reasons to think the answer is yes. Severe trauma causes a state of hyperarousal, where a person has heightened anxiety and is sensitive to anything that goes on around them – sounds, sights, movements, etc.
Recurring panic attacks eventually start causing something similar: hypersensitivity and self-monitoring. This is where an individual is, both consciously and subconsciously, monitoring their body for any unrecognized sensation and then reacting with severe anxiety upon noticing that sensation.
Trauma tends to cause heightened arousal outside of the body – a person is usually paying attention to the world around them, not how they feel. Panic attacks cause the same thing but inside the body, where someone is paying attention to every feeling they have inside of them. Both involve an already heightened state of anxiety, so that when they see, hear, or feel something they did not expect, they respond with a severe anxiety reaction.
Feelings of Doom and Panic Attacks
A person with panic attacks also experiences what’s known as “feelings of doom.” They may feel like they’re about to die, or that something serious is about to happen. Symptoms of a panic attack can mimic other health conditions, like heart attacks, and so many people with panic attacks also develop a type of health anxiety. Even if they know they have panic disorder, they may be worried about their health as the panic attack is occurring.
We know that some people that have heart attacks end up developing PTSD as a result of living through that heart attack. It is reasonable to wonder if people with panic attacks, who may feel like something terrible is happening, can develop the same problem.
Addressing Panic, Trauma, and More
It is not specifically clear if panic disorder can cause PTSD. But it is reasonable to wonder if panic disorder can be a type of trauma, and if it’s a type of trauma, then it is also possible for someone with panic attacks to have symptoms that relate to experiencing trauma.
No matter what you feel or how your panic attacks manifest, however, know that panic disorder and anxiety respond very well to psychotherapy and other mental health treatments. For more information about treating panic attacks on Long Island, contact Long Island Counseling Services, today.