Panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two serious mental health issues which can often be intertwined. The link between the two is complex, and can be difficult to understand. In this article, we explore the potential link between panic attacks and PTSD. We look at the symptoms of both, the emotional risks of co-existing mental health struggles, and strategies for seeking treatment. Additionally, we look at the importance of support from others in managing panic and PTSD.
Panic Attacks: Uncovering the Links with PTSD
Panic attacks are sudden, intense periods of fear which can cause a person to feel intense physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and feeling breathless. They can last for any duration of time, but usually last no longer than 10 minutes. Panic attacks can lead to dangerous situations if they are not monitored and managed. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder which can develop after someone has been through a traumatic event. People with PTSD often experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty concentrating and hypervigilance. It can result in significant distress and impair functioning in everyday life. Although panic attacks and PTSD have distinct symptoms, they can often be linked in terms of their cause. Those who experience traumatic events such as car accidents, abuse or traumatic loss are at greater risk of developing panic attacks as well as PTSD.
Connecting Symptoms of Panic and PTSD
One of the ways panic and PTSD can be linked is through the presence of similar symptoms in individuals who suffer from both. These may include:
- Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Reactivity or difficulty in maintaining emotional control
- Feelings of detachment or isolation
- Irritability and restlessness
- Heightened startle responses
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control, particularly in any situation which may resemble the traumatic event surrounding the onset of symptoms
This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, however these are common to both panic and PTSD. Someone suffering from both may struggle with the symptoms more intensely and struggle more significantly with everyday tasks.
Emotional Risk Factors of Co-Existent Mental Health Struggles
The emotional risk factors of co-existing mental health struggles may be similar for panic and PTSD. Poor emotional regulation skills, such as difficulty identifying or controlling emotions, may increase the risk of developing both. In addition, feeling a lack of control or having unrealistic expectations may also cause significant psychological distress, resulting in symptoms of both panic and PTSD. It is also important to note that certain personality traits play a role in the likelihood of developing either or both. For example, someone who is prone to impulsiveness and poor decision making may be at greater risk of developing both panic and PTSD.
Trauma’s Impact on Mental Health: Investigating Causes of Panic and PTSD
When attempting to uncover the connection between panic and PTSD, it is essential to understand the impact of trauma on mental health. Trauma can lead to long-term psychological damage, even if the traumatic event occurred years ago. It is possible that trauma experienced in the past can result in a heightened fear response, resulting in panic attacks. Research has also highlighted the potential contribution of biology to the link between panic and PTSD. Those who experience panic attacks may be more likely to develop PTSD, due to biological markers that can predict a more severe response to traumatic events. It is unclear exactly how this may occur, however the presence of certain neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain are thought to play a role.
Seeking Treatment for Panic and PTSD: Effective and Long-Term Strategies
For those with co-existing mental health issues, seeking treatment is essential to reduce the impact of symptoms and improve daily functioning. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common and effective treatment for both panic and PTSD, focusing on changing both behavior and cognitive processing. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is another effective treatment for those with both panic and PTSD. It is a more indirect approach, encouraging the patient to talk about their traumatic experiences rather than pushing them to confront them. It is also important to recognize that recovery from panic and PTSD may take a long time. Therefore, it is important to be patient and understand that a relapse may occur at some point.
Finding Strength in the Support of Others: Managing Panic and PTSD Together
Having strong social support is an important factor in helping to manage panic and PTSD. It is essential for someone to find supportive friends and family to discuss their experiences and feelings. Support groups can also be helpful, as they allow individuals to discuss their worries and fears in a non-judgemental environment. This can be a valuable source of strength in managing panic and PTSD. Organizations such as the American Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Association provide resources, assistance and understanding specifically dedicated to those with PTSD. Similarly, Panic and Anxiety UK provides support and information for those with panic attacks.
Panic attacks and PTSD can be closely linked, due to their similar causes, risks, and symptoms. There are effective treatments available which, combined with the support of friends and family, can help manage and reduce the symptoms of both panic and PTSD. Therefore, it is important to seek help if you are suffering from both, as there are many long-term strategies that can assist with recovery.