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Panic Attacks

Stress | May 2, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Panic Attacks

Having a panic attack can be a very scary experience and are more common than you think. In fact, up to 35% of the population experience a panic attack at some point in their lives.

A panic attack, also called an anxiety attack, is a brief episode of anxiety, which causes rapid breathing, a racing heartbeat, dizziness and trembling. These attacks can last from a few minutes to half an hour and may take a few hours to recover mentally and physically. They can often occur frequently and unexpectedly, sometimes without an external trigger. For some people, panic attacks can occur occasionally during periods of stress or illness. If these attacks occur frequently, they are usually diagnosed with having panic disorder. In these individuals, the attacks are frequent and unexpected, with persistent fears of them re-occurring.

Panic disorder often co-exists with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), symptoms of which include uncontrolled excessive anxiety and worry. Without treatment, frequent and prolonged panic attacks can be severely disabling, interfering with social and work functioning.

Natural therapies can help to reduce anxiety, worry and episodes of attacks. Stress management techniques and dietary improvements can also help prevent or lessen the chance of relapsing anxiety.


panic attacks symptomsSymptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Anxious and irrational thinking
  • A strong feeling of dread, danger or foreboding
  • Fear of going mad, losing control or dying
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pounding heart
  • Numb or tingly feelings
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Nausea or abdominal pains
  • Tight muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of unreality or of being detached from oneself

The ‘fight-or-flight’ response

Fear and anxiety are in fact natural reactions to scary events or things. It helps us to stay safe in dangerous situations. When we are faced with immediate danger the brain orders the autonomic nervous system to activate the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

The physical responses to panic such as increased heart rate and breathing are caused by a surge of chemicals including adrenaline. Blood flow is also increased to the muscles to prepare for physical combat or running away.

This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is triggered in a person experiencing a panic attack but there is no imminent danger. These attacks can occur in apparently harmless or stress-free environments, such as going about normal day-to-day activities or even while sleeping.

What can trigger a panic attack?

Some factors that prompt the body to activate the ‘fight-or-flight’ response include:panic attacks phobias

  • Chronic stress—ongoing stress can cause the body to produce higher levels of stress chemicals.
  • Traumatic events—acute episodes of stress can suddenly flood the body with large amounts of adrenaline.
  • Hyperventilation—habitual hyperventilation can trigger panic attacks by disturbing the balance of blood gases.
  • Illness—a range of certain conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Wilson’s disease and hypoglycaemia have all been linked to panic attacks.
  • Medications and drugs—the most commonly reported side effect of smoking marijuana are anxiety and panic attacks. Other medications and substances such as caffeine, tranquilisers and alcohol abuse also induce panic-like symptoms.
  • Phobias—people will often experience a panic attack as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation.

Natural therapies to reduce anxiety


The root of the kava plant, even though traditionally used by Pacific Islanders, is used in Western countries to treat anxiety disorders. The active ingredient in kava, known as kava lactones, affects a range of neurotransmitter symptoms. Although it has not been shown to be specifically effective for panic attacks, many clinical trials have proven it effective in treating generalised anxiety.

panic attacks herbsPassionflower

Another herb traditionally used to relieve anxiety and nervous tension. Again, this herb isn’t specifically tested for panic disorders but it has shown to be beneficial for people suffering from generalised anxiety. Passionflower is also commonly combined with other herbs to reduce anxiety, including magnolia, chamomile, withania or lemon balm.


Inositol is a small molecule structurally similar to glucose that is involved in cellular signalling. In panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder inositol was found to be superior to placebo.

Even though it occurs naturally in the normal human diet, inositol, when taken as a supplement has been shown to exert anti-anxiety and anti-panic effects. Although hard to find as a supplement on its own it is commonly found as part of a B complex. Having the additional B vitamins is certainly an advantage as they can assist with further nervous system support.


Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to help buffer stress. Numerous studies have demonstrated strong effects for mild to moderate anxiety. In regard to panic disorder there is one trial that shows exercise to be as effective in the longer term compared to a commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Yoga and tai chi or other relaxing activities may also be helpful.

Learning coping techniques

Psychotherapy, including cognitive behaviour therapy and biofeedback therapy, can help with strategies to help control anxiety. Some self-regulation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, keeping a stress dairy and learning objectivity and resilience are daily skills that can be used to stay in control.

What you can do to improve your diet

What you eat can play a significant role in how you feel. Avoiding caffeine in the diet is a must and this includes caffeinated soft drinks, tea, coffee and energy drinks. Be sure to not skip meals as having low blood sugars can be a trigger for anxiety. Eat a wholefood, balanced diet, with adequate protein for healthy neurotransmitter production. Foods rich in magnesium are also beneficial and include green leafy vegetables and nuts. Oily fish, rich in omega-3 can help boost mood and reduce anxiety. Aim for 3-4 serves per week.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Jorm AF, et al. Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for anxiety disorders. Med J Aust. 2004 Oct 4;181(7 Suppl):S29-46

Sarris J, et al. Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence. CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr;27(4):301-19

Takacs J, et al. The role of regular physical activity in the prevention and intervention of symptoms of anxiety and anxiety disorders. Psychiatr Hung. 2016;31(4):327-337

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