Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

What is a Panic Attack?

The DSM-IV (American PsychiatricAssociation, 1994) defines a panic attack as a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort that is accompanied by at least four of 13 somatic or cognitive symptoms. The attack has a sudden onset and builds up to a peak rapidly (usually in 10 minutes or less) and is often accompanied by a sense of immediate danger or impending doom and an urge to escape the situation.

What is a Panic Disorder?

The essential feature of panic disorder is the presence of recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. These are followed by at least one month of persistent concern about having another panic attack, worry about the possible implications or consequences of the panic attacks or a significant behavioural change related to the attacks.

Panic Attack Triggers:

There is not one single cause of panic attacks, but rather panic attacks can be linked to numerous triggers:

•    Genetic components
•    Nutritional deficiencies/food additives
•    Specific medical conditions (mitral valve prolapse, thyroid problems and hypoglycemia)
•    Drug stimulants
•    Stress
•    Transitional periods
•    History of physical/sexual abuse
•    Psychological trauma

Our Philosophy and Approach to Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are a complex problem with multiple contributing factors. At Victoria Massage Therapy and Health Solutions we truly believe treating panic attacks holistically is effective for both the short and long-term recovery. Below are some helpful suggestions of how Massage Therapy, Acupuncture and Naturopathic Medicine may help.

Massage Therapy for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Stress, anxiety and panic attacks are all linked to over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and under-stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Your brain likes repetitive behavior and will often take the path of least resistance. You can become stuck in a pattern of stressed existence even when there’s really no reason to be stressed. A good analogy is a road that’s been driven down so many times, on the exact same path, that the tire tracks become deep and defined. If you were to try driving down this road while trying to keep your wheels out of the tire tracks, you may find it more difficult. It’s entirely possible to change this behavior and train your body to simply relax. It takes some practice and dedication; Massage Therapy helps you practice to slow down and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, creating a new pattern for yourself.

Swedish relaxation massage techniques involve long, slow rhythmic kneading and stroking, massaging the hands, feet, scalp and face. Postural correction techniques can be very relieving as stress and anxiety is often carried in the shoulders, upper back, neck and chest. Each treatment plan is very individualized. Frequency of treatment is determined by your symptoms, your goals, lifestyle and schedule. Aromatherapy can be very useful. Certain oils promote relaxation while others are stimulating. Each has its own specific therapeutic qualities. The organic oils communicate on a cellular level with the limbic system, a complex set of brain structures that lie on both sides of the thalamus, and right under the cerebrum. It is primarily responsible for emotional life, and has a great deal to do with the formation of memories. Incorporating aromatherapy oils that promote relaxation into a treatment can further stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The patient can also use the same oil on their own at home. The smell will remind their limbic system of the relaxed state they were in during their massage and help take them back to that state. If a panic attack is coming on, keeping the specific oil close by and smelling/applying it to the skin for absorption can help curb the attack.
Certain exercises and stretches can be very effective in releasing physical tension. At the end of each treatment your RMT can suggest some exercises to try at home. Our goal is to help you achieve long lasting results and help you build a homecare maintenance routine that works for you.
Acupuncture for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Western treatments of anxiety and panic attacks generally entail drug therapies and prescriptions, which can be extremely helpful but often coincide with debilitating side effects. Acupuncture is an efficacious and safe way to relieve anxiety with both immediate and long-lasting results and without the harsh side effects that accompany some Western treatments. As a treatment, acupuncture works to restore a calm and balanced sense of wellness. It is known to effectively help with stress and anxiety as its’ application increases the level of seratonin and encephalin in the central nervous system and plasma. By targeting specific points in the body, acupuncture treatments relieve stress and release blockages that have built up over time from stress stimulants. 

Acupuncture needles are inserted into specific areas in the body to help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Normal anxiety, stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, has its root in fear and serves an important survival function. When acupuncture needles are inserted into certain points, they have an immediate, regulatory effect on the nervous system. For an individual who experiences an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, this immediate effect helps them to enter in the calm and relaxed state of the parasympathetic nervous system. The heart rate slows down and the body and mind can begin to relax.

Your acupuncturist may prescribe herbs or dietary changes as a part of your treatment as well. Chinese herbs can be a safe and side-effect free way to address symptoms of anxiety as well as any other physical symptoms you may be experiencing.

Naturopathic Medicine for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

In addition to Massage Therapy and Acupuncture, we offer treatment through Naturopathic medicine from our on site Naturopath, Dr.Carrie Watkins. Dr. Watkins’ approach to panic attacks and the accumulation of stress aim to uncover the ways each individual deals with stress and the core beliefs associated with the stress response.  Herbal medicine, acupuncture and counselling can dramatically help calm the nervous system, support adrenal glands and change the patterns that are at the root cause of anxiety, low mood and stress.

Dr.Watkin’s appreciates that each client is different and has individualistic needs. Depending on the client’s experience with panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia or stress, she may prescribe a variety of different treatments. These treatments include, but are not limited to: hormonal treatment, botanical remedies, lifestyle change, dietary change, homeopathy, and yoga and yoga therapy.


Lally, S., Meyers, M.  Massage: What it can do for you. Prevention, 42.12. 56-122.
Triangle Acupuncture Clinic.
PCH Treatment Center.
Watkins, C.


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