Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep, also known as an anxiety attack.
About 2 million British adults experience panic disorder in any given year. Typically developing in early adulthood, women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder. This may be because men are less likely to report it.
Many people don’t know that their disorder is real and highly responsive to treatment. Some are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors and loved ones, about what they experience for fear of being considered a hypochondriac. Instead they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could be helpful or supportive.
Where does panic disorder come from?
What many don’t realise is that the fears panic disorder is built upon, at one point in our history, were adaptive. Fear of an open space (you would be in view of predators) or being scared of heights (the only exposure our ancestors had to this will have been cliff edges) helped avoid genuine dangers and risk. Of course, nowadays these fears are simply an annoyance. But remember that, without them, we wouldn’t be here today.
A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Since many of the symptoms of panic disorder mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to accident and emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening issue.
In the past it might have taken months, years and lots of frustration before getting a proper diagnosis.
Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones, about what they are experiencing for fear of being seen as a hypochondriac. Instead they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could be helpful.
We are hoping to change this, by altering people’s thoughts on anxiety disorders.
Many people suffering from panic attacks don’t know they have a real and highly treatable disorder.
The Agoraphobia that comes along with the panic disorder relates a fear of a place or situation that will trigger a panic attack.
Like other anxiety disorders, panic disorder and agoraphobia can be treated.
Most people find significant improvement with professional care. Treatment success varies among people. Some may respond to treatment after a few months, while other people may need more than a year. Treatment can be complicated if a person has more than one anxiety disorder or suffers from depression or substance abuse, which is why it must be tailored to the individual.
Although treatment is individualised, several standard approaches have proved effective. Therapists will use therapy, medication, or a combination of the two the please come along to one of workshops to learn more.
An exercise to get you started
Do you fear that you are about to have a heart attack, when you have no history of such a disease and your doctor has said you are clear of heart issues? Try jogging on the spot the next time you have an attack; you’ll see that nothing will happen and the fear was irrational. Consider that you will have had this feeling before and nothing happened as a result then, either.
Dr. Robert Leahy – Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You, Second Edition