OPINION: Therapist talks panic attacks

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Dear Ask A Therapist,

How can I tell when anxiety and panic attacks are at concerning levels?


Dear reader, 

I can give you a quick view of what is good to know about anxiety and panic. Anxiety and panic attacks are disorders that can be treated effectively using psychotherapy or medications, or both, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Hallmarks of anxiety include excessive worry, feelings of dread and insomnia, to name a few.

Many people struggle to know if the anxiety they feel is “normal” and wonder if they should I get help. If your worry is interfering with your ability to function or causing you to lose sleep, then seek out professional help and get a diagnosis to support a better outcome. Even if your worry is considered normal, therapy can help you respond effectively to the cause of your anxiety, as well as address the type of anxiety symptoms you have.

Panic attacks are acute “anxiety attacks” and may include physical symptoms, such as chest pain, intense feelings of fear, difficulty breathing or swallowing, an upset stomach, racing heart, fears of dying or losing your mind. Treatment for anxiety and panic attacks is recommended because the symptoms are overwhelming and often interfere with normal functioning.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older or 18.1 percent of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9 percent of those suffering receive treatment, and anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events.

Learning skills that increase your ability to develop a core of tranquility and calm is achievable, sometimes in a short time. However, it is best to consider the big picture. Recognize that it might take time to manage your symptoms. Medications help, but a better approach may be to seek psychotherapy. Talking with a counselor can help you discover where your anxiety comes from.

Evidence-based practices include skill-based practices like mindfulness and cognitive therapy. Treatment may include lifestyle changes in the areas of exercise, nutrition and recreation. Taking the first step by seeking help is the most important action in addressing anxiety and panic.


Michele Willingham M.A., L.P.C., L.A.C. is a therapist for the Justice Accountability and Recovery Team at Community Reach Center. She specializes in trauma informed care with an emphasis on the use of mindfulness skills and is an EMDR practitioner. Michele also runs a wellness group that utilized walking, Tai Chi exercise and yoga to help improve symptoms.


Submit a question to Ask A Therapist at AskATherapist@CommunityReachCenter.org  This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not those of this publication, (publication name). Answers are not a substitute for regular or urgent medical consultation and treatment. Individuals with medical or personal problems need to seek the advice of their own physician or an appropriate health-care professional. Do not stop any medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, dial 911, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500