Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, which causes a person to experience a panic or anxiety attack. In fact, they may experience panic attacks frequently and without warning. This can affect someone in a great number of ways. Keep reading for further details on panic disorder, including a list of symptoms, as well as an explanation of how these symptoms are treated.
When you hear about panic disorder, this generally refers to when a person has regular panic attacks. It is fine to have one or two panic attacks throughout your life, but if you have numerous attacks or frequent attacks, this may indicate that you have panic disorder.
People who experience panic attacks are generally afraid of when the next attack will occur, which can cause them to avoid certain places, people, or situations. This can greatly impact their lives and may interfere with family life, work, and much more. They may even be fearful of leaving their house or a place that they consider to be safe.
What Is A Panic Attack?
A panic attack involves an episode where a person experiences an intense period of fear, anxiety, or panic. These episodes or attacks can last anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes at a time. They come on suddenly, so there is essentially no way to predict when someone will have a panic attack. This can make someone with panic disorder quite afraid of new situations, or circumstances that remind them of attacks they have experienced in the past.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
No one knows for sure what causes panic attacks but there are a few things that are thought to be possible causes.
One is a family connection. If someone in your family has panic disorder, you may also have a higher chance of developing it.
Some panic attacks may be caused by another mental health condition. It is important to get checked out, both by a doctor and a therapist if you feel that you may have a physical or mental health issue that needs to be addressed. Since panic attacks can cause pain in the chest, it is quite necessary to get your heart checked by a doctor. Then you can make sure that you are in good health otherwise and aren’t experiencing a heart attack when you experience a panic attack.
The fight or flight reflex may cause someone to freeze up when they have a panic attack. This reflex is the body’s natural response to a stressful situation. Think of the last time you were scared. Did you feel like you were unable to move? This is an example of that reflex.
When someone has a panic disorder, this reflex may happen even when there is no danger. This can cause a person to be fearful in situations where they are safe. This may be because someone has too much stress in their life, or it could be a matter of how they process stress. They may be sensitive to stress, even small amounts, causing their body to be unable to interpret it properly. A licensed therapist can teach you positive ways to cope with stress.
Panic Disorder Symptoms
Many symptoms of panic disorder actually refer to the symptoms of a panic attack. This is because the attacks are a major issue when it comes to panic disorder.
- Feeling too hot or too cold
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Chest pain
- Feeling scared or fearful
- Intense panic
- Tingling sensation in extremities
- Feeling like you might not make it
- Having an out of body experience
- Fast heartbeat
- Stomach pain
These panic attack symptoms need to be paid attention to get the proper treatment for the condition.
Treatments For Panic Disorder
If you are interested in knowing more about panic disorder and suspect you may be affected by it, consider taking this panic disorder test for more information.
There are a number of treatments when it comes to panic disorder. It is important to talk to your therapist and be honest with them to structure a treatment plan that will address your symptoms and give you the best chance at seeing your attacks become less frequent. A great way to do this is by keeping a list or journal of your symptoms and how often you are experiencing panic attacks. Once you start to keep this ledger, you will be able to share it with your doctor or therapist, and they will have a better understanding of how panic disorder looks for you.
This is important since over the years panic disorder has been studied and treated in a number of different ways. Perhaps the most beneficial way is through psychotherapy. An article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry explains how a person can even be treated effectively when they utilize an internet therapy program.
There are also new ways that are being studied to see how well they will be able to assist in the treatment of the symptoms of panic disorder. For example, in the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, researchers studied how virtual reality could be able to be used to treat panic disorder. This is just another of the many ways that panic disorder may be able to be treated and will possibly be treated in the future.
In some cases, it may be necessary to take prescriptions as well. This depends on if the panic disorder is being caused by another condition, or if it occurs alongside a separate condition. Some people who have panic disorder also have depression, and if this is the case for you, you might be helped with medicines.
Again, your doctor will have to determine if there are any medicines that may be able to alleviate some of your symptoms, and then they can make an expert recommendation. Keep in mind that most medications can cause side effects, so be sure to discuss this with your mental health professional, if this is an issue that you are concerned about.
There are a couple of things that may also play a big part in treating panic disorder, and these things can be done at home.
One is prioritizing your physical health. If you are someone who doesn’t exercise regularly, you may need to start exercising as soon as you can. You can start with something easy, and it doesn’t need to be more than a few times a week, until you are strong enough to be able to exercise for a longer amount of time.
Along with this, you can also work on improving your diet, and enjoy a balanced diet. These things can go a long way in improving your chances of seeing a difference while ug treatment under a counselor's supervision for panic disorder.
Another thing is getting enough sleep. This sounds like it is an easy thing, but it may be hard to accomplish. A good way to make sure that you are getting the 7-9 hours you need a night is to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This is a good way to train your body into working with you to get a good amount of sleep. Do your best not to sleep too many hours as well, as this can affect your mood just as much as not getting enough sleep. Even when you want to lay in bed all day, think of something to do and get up and do it, when you can.
There is no “cure” for panic disorder. However, many people have significantly reduced their panic attacks when they institute the straightforward changes mentioned above and work with a therapist to get the treatment they need. You must reach out for help as soon as possible before developing other conditions. This is your best chance to see some of your symptoms become less severe or go away. If you do not get treatment, you may develop another condition, like agoraphobia, which can cause you to be unable to leave the house. It can also cause you to have additional symptoms to be concerned with.
A study in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry explains some of the panic disorder statistics and discusses how getting the proper therapy and prescriptions can help you. Treatment plans are utilized long-term to keep your panic disorder from affecting your daily life.
Whenever you feel like you need help getting over your panic attacks, reach out for the support that you need. There is help out there for you, so you won’t have to keep enduring the signs of a panic attack alone. Take control of your mental health and talk to a mental health professional. It can make a big difference.