What is Panic Disorder?
Fear and anxiety are normal emotions. In fact, both can be quite useful as they can signal potential dangers that threaten our physical or mental integrity.
But there are times when fear or anxiety can be so intense that we eventually end up dealing with a panic attack.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety which produces severe physical reactions, even though there is no real danger or apparent cause.
As those who’ve experienced them can confirm, panic attacks generate a lot of worry and distress. When panic ‘hits,’ you may think you’re losing your mind or that you may have a severe medical condition. People who experience panic attacks can sometimes feel like they are about to die.
While most people will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, some people experience them regularly. And that’s when mental health professionals consider the possibility of a more severe condition – panic disorder.
In essence, panic disorder is a form of anxiety disorder in which the patient displays recurring episodes of intense fear and anxiety, which trigger sudden and unexpected panic attacks.
Signs of Panic Disorder
To understand how panic disorder works, we need to look at the main symptoms of a panic attack.
- Vertigo (dizziness)
- Abdominal cramps
- Chest pain
- Tingling sensations in the limbs
- Breathing difficulties
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- Sensation of imminent danger
- Fear of death
- Fear of losing control
- A sense of detachment from reality
- Chills or hot flushes
How is Panic Disorder Treated?
Psychological and pharmacological treatments can help reduce the intensity and frequency of panic attacks.
Depending on the severity of the condition and medical history, mental health professionals can recommend one or both treatment options.
Many healthcare experts consider psychotherapy the first-line treatment for panic disorder and a related condition called agoraphobia. A licensed therapist or counselor can help you understand how panic attacks work, isolate the primary cause and suggest strategies to deal with them effectively.
But the results of therapy take time and effort on your part. If you’re motivated enough to follow through with your counselor’s intervention plan, you can expect a significant reduction in symptoms after just a couple of weeks of therapy.
Medication can help reduce the symptoms and frequency of panic attacks. Certain types of drugs which have been known to alleviate depression and social anxiety have also proven effective in treating panic disorder and agoraphobia.
Although ‘lifestyle changes’ doesn’t fall under the category of ‘official’ treatments for panic disorder, experts believe we can manage panic disorder and agoraphobia by following a simple set of strategies:
- Stick to the treatment recommended by your doctor
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, energy drinks, caffeine, and recreational drugs
- Join a support group for panic disorder or agoraphobia
- Practice stress management and relaxation techniques