Condition in Review: Panic Attacks and Anxiety

According to Beyond Blue, up to 40% of Australians will experience some kind of panic attack or panic disorder in their lifetime and up to 45% of Australians will suffer from some sort of mental illness. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. (viewed 27/1/16,

What are panic attacks and anxiety?
Breslin defines panic attacks as “an episode of panic often accompanied by sweating, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dizziness, feelings of unreality, fear of dying etc. usually as a symptom of mental illness or psychological disturbance” (Breslin M et al 2007 p. 266) and
anxiety as “apprehension and fear manifested as palpitations, sweating, tension and stress”. (Breslin M et al 2007 p. 27)

What causes panic attacks and anxiety?

There a number of factors contributing to the risk of developing panic attacks and anxiety;
Genetic factors – high levels of anxiety and anxiety disorders as such are generally not inherited, however what can be inherited is a general sensibility or learned behaviours
Physical factors – high intake of caffeine, nicotine, and using stimulant drugs such as LSD, cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana have been seen to increase anxiety in a person who has predisposition to it; withdrawal from drugs; poor nutrition; muscle tension are also contributing factors
Environmental factors – childhood experiences, cumulative stress, adverse life events or major loss or life changes such as exposure to abuse, loss of job or loved one
Behavioural factors – avoidance, recreational drugs, poor nutrition, lack of exercise
Physiological factors – negative, unrealistic & irrational thinking; unhealthy beliefs; types of beliefs (good and evil, dread, guilt)
•A combination of the above factors3

What are the signs and symptoms of a panic attack?
“Common somatic symptoms are facial flushing, hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating), muscle tension, parenthesis (numbness and tingling), shallow (or rapid) breathing, syncope (fainting) and tachycardia (rapid heart rate).

The emotional symptoms of anxiety disorder occur simultaneously with the somatic ones and include agitation, derealisation (feelings of unreality), fearfulness, feelings of ‘impending doom’, irritability, nervousness and shyness” (Prosy J., 2006, P. 15)

“I was unable to attend my children’s school concerts or take them to the pictures as I would have panic attacks…”

What is the treatment for panic attacks and anxiety?

Everyone’s experience of anxiety and panic attacks is as individual as the person. Treatment will be different for everyone, whether it be psychological, medical or other types of support it needs to be understood that treatment takes time and often a lot of trial and error before finding the right balance.

Treatment needs to be tailored to your condition, circumstances, needs and preferences. Most people with anxiety benefit from one or a combination of the following:

  • lifestyle changes and social support
  • psychological or ‘talking’ therapies
  • medical therapies

Can massage help?

“Relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and biofeedback are often taught to anxiety disorder patients as coping mechanisms; it seems reasonable that massage and bodywork would fit under this heading as well. Indeed, several research projects under way have shown that touch in general and massage in particular are effective in reducing self-reported anxiety in various populations.” (Werner R., 2009, P. 258)

“Positive changes have been noted in biochemistry following massage therapy including reduced cortisol and increased serotonin and dopamine. Many conditions were positively affected by massage therapy including depression and depression-related conditions, pain syndromes, autoimmune and immune chronic illnesses, and stress conditions. The underlying mechanisms for their effects remain to be understood.”5

“Standard medical treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy, pharmacologic therapies, or a combination of both. Natural therapies include treating anxiety with nutrition, vitamins (such as B-3 and B-12), minerals and amino acids.” (Prousky J., 2006, p25) Referral to a clinical psychologist is usual, but a naturopath or nutritionist could also be beneficial.


Everyone’s different and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing anxiety. It’s important to remember that you can’t always identify the cause of anxiety or change difficult circumstances. The most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms and seek support.

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety please contact Beyond Blue to get the correct support you need.


1. Breskin M., Dumith K., Pearsons E., Seeman R., 2007, McGraw-Hill Medical Dictionary for Allied Health, Career Education, New York
4. Prosy, Dr. J., 2006, Anxiety; Orthomolecular Diagnosis and Treatment, tri-graphic Printing, Ottawa

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