Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder can be intensely frightening.  Sudden moments of intense fear that come from nowhere, without any identifiable cause can be emotionally, socially, and physically debilitating.  Typically, an intense panic onset lasts for several minutes, but may also present in waves for several hours.  Symptoms of Panic Disorder are as follows:

  • Difficulty breathing, feelings of smothering
  • Pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Difficulty swallowing, choking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Depersonalization, feeling you are not really there
  • Numbness and tingling in extremities
  • Hot flashes
  • Chest pain
  • Fear of losing control, fear of dying.

 

If you experience four or more of these symptoms at one time, you are having a panic attack.  You can be diagnosed with a panic disorder if you have had two or more panic attacks and after an attack have a persistent fear of having another attack for at least one month.  Panic attacks are not related to phobias.  There is not a particular object or situation that brings on the attack.  The attacks are spontaneous and unexpected.

One of the most insidious features of Panic Disorder is the anticipatory anxiety of having another attack.  This is when the fear of another attack can be as debilitating as having another attack.

Treatments for Panic Disorder:

Relaxation Training:

Deep breathing and focused muscle relaxation on a daily basis can help your body understand the conditions of a relaxed state.  Relaxation training also helps reduce physical symptoms when you are experiencing anticipatory anxiety.

Panic-Control Therapy

Taking a page from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Panic-Control Therapy attempts to recognize and eliminate catastrophic thoughts such as “I’m going crazy!” or “I’m going to have a heart attack!”. These types of thoughts can trigger the physical symptoms of panic attacks.

Interoceptive Desensitization:

Interoceptive Desensitization can be a scary undertaking. The idea is to create the bodily symptoms associated with your panic symptoms deliberately in order to reduce the possibility of a panic attack. For example, you may create the feelings of dizziness by spinning in a chair or create rapid heartrate by running on a treadmill.  The idea is that repeated exposure to the symptoms without a panic attack will desensitize you and reduce the fear.

Medication:

Many times, antidepressant or benzodiazepine based antianxiety medications will help reduce the severity of panic symptoms. However, medication is best used in conjunction with other anxiety fighting techniques.

Lifestyle Changes:

Lifestyle changes including stress management techniques, exercise, healthy diet, allowing for downtime, as well as avoiding tendencies toward perfectionism and control can go a long way in reducing anxiety symptoms.

 

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with panic disorder, please consider the above recommendations and if the panic feelings persist contact the office to make an appointment.