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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Do panic attacks occur randomly out of the blue or are they triggered by something?

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  • 3


    Dr Louise Shepherd

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a clinical psychologist with 15 years experience working with all sorts of goals and issues. I love working with people, helping them to … View Profile

    NB: I'm pasting much of  this from a very similar question I have just answered - ("are panic attacks always part of an underlying anxiety disorder). 

    The short answer is no. A panic attack can happen to anyone and in fact off the top of my head I think something like 80% of adults will have had at least one at some stage. 

    Panic attacks often happen at times when we feel physically and emotionally run down… a sense they often happen, seemingly out of the blue, at times when we are perhaps feeling overwhelmed. I tend to think of them as our mind and body telling us that things are not quite right…..maybe we need to slow down, take some time out to relax with friends and family and take stock. 

    Having said that, panic attacks are often accompanied by an anxiety disorder, often what is called panic disorder (with or without the avoidance aspect, i.e. agoraphobia), social anxiety or OCD. 

    What your mind tells you about what is happening will probably determine whether you just have 1-2 panic attacks and that is it or whether you develop an ongoing issue with panic attacks.

    It is the fear of panic attacks that is the issue, not really the panic attack itself. 

    I hope that is somewhat helpful!

  • Ralph Graham


    Ralph Graham, Counsellor, Psychotherapist, helping those who are affected by:grief, loss, anxiety, phobias, panic attack.And those who have been traumatised by:crime, assault, sexual abuse and … View Profile

    My feeling on the above is where there is fear of attacks we are addressing something that repeats. Addressing the fear of the problem may be valid but if addressing the actual cause of the attacks leads to a successful outcome then the fear will atomatically be gone as a result. If the cause of the attacks is traced to an earlier incident and this is handled then addressing the fear first would not be needed in that particular case of course.

    Panic episodes can have triggers which are not obvious. But the triggers become null with a method like Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) where the origin of the panic is found and extinguished. So the triggers are not searched for though they could become obvious during a session like this. 
    You could also see some responses by professionals here to other related questions below.
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    Ralph Graham

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  • Renee Mill

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Empowering people is my passion and life work. I have been working as a Clinical Psychologist in private practice for over thirty years. I have … View Profile

    This is an interesting question and will receive different answers depending on the profession of the responder. Doctors favour the medical approach believing in genetic facors and disease.

    Psycho-analytic therapists believe that panic attacks are the result of early life experiences which need to be resolved.  Behaviourists believe in stimulus and response   and therefore will state  that a panic attack is a response to a stimulus even if you cannot identify the stimulus.

    Cognitive behavioural psychologists posit that it your beliefs which primarily set off panic attacks and the treatment is to  challenge your beliefs and adopt healthy behaviours. 

    In my opinion, the important thing is to find a therapist that you trust and work with them to reduce your feelings of panic. I also think that if you do not obtain results in a fairly short time, you need to seek out a therapist that utilises evidence based treatments such as CBT.

    Panic attacks are highly treatable and, whatever their cause, there is no need to suffer unnecessarily when there are effective treatments out there. 

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