In some situations, extreme feelings of panic can be normal. However, when you are experiencing panic attacks for seemingly no reason at all, you may have a panic disorder.
What is Panic Disorder?
A panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes episodes of intense panic attacks. These panic attacks can cause one to experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations and shortness of breath along with extreme feelings of stress and impending doom. Those with a panic disorder typically tend to experience panic attacks without an obvious reason
Signs and Symptoms
If you have a panic disorder, panic attacks may hit you at any time. You may develop a fear of triggering a panic attack, causing you to withdraw from things that may have brought you joy in the past. While a panic disorder can look different in different people, a few signs and symptoms you can watch out for include:
- Panic attacks that happen repeatedly and with little to no explanation
- Feeling out of control, fearful of death, or as though something bad is going to happen during a panic attack.
- Fear and worry about when the next panic attack will hit you
- Withdrawal from possible panic attack triggers
A panic disorder is characterized as suffering from random and sudden panic attacks. Symptoms of a panic attack include:
According to the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.), a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- A feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
- Chills or hot flushes
The more you know about your panic disorder, the better equipped you will be to cope with it. So surf the web, and read up on panic disorders to gain a better understanding of the condition.
Tips for Coping with a Panic Disorder
Having a panic disorder can affect your relationships, mental health, and ability to live and enjoy your life. Fortunately, there are some healthy coping mechanisms that, when paired with the help of a health professional, can help you cope with your panic disorder. A few coping mechanisms include:
Practice Relaxation Techniques
When you feel anxious or begin to predict a panic attack coming on, knowing ways to calm yourself can be a useful tool to help you get through it. A few relaxation techniques you can try include:
- Focusing on the breath. When we are anxious, our breath tends to get short and rapid. Mindfully slowing down our breathing can send calming messages to the brain, helping you feel more relaxed.
Become Mindful of Your Thinking
Oftentimes, we feel anxious and panicked when our minds create scenarios that are overwhelming and often not completely accurate. When our brains begin to think irrationally, panic can arise. Becoming more mindful of your thinking processes can help you fight your panic disorder.
When you are feeling worried or anxious, try to view the situation as rationally as possible. Are you catastrophizing a small scenario? Will the consequences of the current event be as large as you are thinking?
If you are having difficulty with being mindful of your thoughts, you can try to write them down. Freehand writing can allow you to get all your thoughts onto paper so you can examine them with your own eyes. This may be an effective method for catching thinking patterns that are causing your panic attacks.
It can be easy to fall into a habit of avoiding possible triggers and working to stay in your comfort zone. However, avoiding possible triggers can cause your panic disorder to intensify. Work with your therapist to slowly but surely face your fears. The more you face your fears, the more desensitized to them you will become.
Panic disorders are difficult to deal with. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that have been proven to help those suffering from a panic disorder work through it. Depending on your specific case, a health professional may recommend certain therapies, medication, or a combination of treatments. The treatment options include:
Psychotherapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven to be an effective treatment option for certain cases of panic disorders. CBT focuses on changing negative thinking patterns, becoming mindful of your thoughts, and developing healthy coping mechanisms to get through a panic attack.
Antidepressants are a safe and well-tolerated first-line treatment option for Panic Disorder that are equally effective to psychotherapy.
How Telehealth Can Help You
Dealing with a panic disorder can negatively impact your entire life. You may feel fearful of triggering a panic attack and begin to withdraw from possible triggers. Seeking the help of a health professional is critical to getting you on the right track to feeling happier and healthier. If you are worried that seeking in-person therapy may trigger a panic attack, telehealth can allow you to get the help you need from the comfort of your home.