Panic Disorder and
Panic Attacks: A Way of Life?
people use the term panic disorder and panic attacks interchangeably.
However, while they are similar terms describing similar
manifestations of anxiety symptoms, panic disorder is made up of a
series of panic attacks and may be experienced with the experience of
avoidance of certain places and experiences which is referred to as
agoraphobia. This series will thoroughly explained panic disorder
and panic attacks as well as the related psychological treatments and
consist of a very frightening array of anxiety-related symptoms which
may include shortness of breath, shakiness or trembling, sweating,
feelings of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, feelings of
detachment or unreality, fear of dying, numbness or tingling, hot or
cold flashes, and a fear of losing control or going insane. They
usually arise suddenly or “out of the blue” and usually do not last
more than 30 minutes. The peak level of symptoms is usually reached
in about 10 minutes. When an individual has recurrent attacks and is
fearful about having future attacks, and is fearful of the possible
impact upon their life, and as a result change their behaviors or
life, they are said to have a panic disorder.
The DSM IV, which
is the diagnostic manual used by mental health clinicians, states that
many individuals have panic disorder and also show evidence of
agoraphobia, which may be anywhere from mild to severe.
Agoraphobias is usually characterized by a fear of being in open
places, public places, traveling on trains or planes, or of being in
situations in which escape may be blocked, or in which it may be
difficult to get help when necessary. Individuals who experience
agoraphobia may avoid these situations entirely, may endure them with
great discomfort, or may require a companion in order to enter into
believe that after an individual has their first panic attack, they
may become hypersensitive to any physical sensations of anxiety and
may develop anticipatory anxiety for any situations that may arouse
panic. Although some individuals may not have had a recent attack,
they may continue to be fearful and avoid possible panic provoking
situations (agoraphobia) and may continue to think about them
frequently. Some of the more distressing situations avoided by many
individuals with agoraphobia include riding in planes, cars or
elevators; walking down the street, and even shopping in stores.
Their fear is that a panic attack will occur and may either endanger
their life or cause them to be embarrassed in public. Because of the
unpredictability and generality in which panic attacks may occur, many
individuals constrict their life severely in an effort to avoid a
variety of situations which may precipitate the panic attack.
Ultimately, the consequence of panic disorder and the avoidance
related to it sometimes results in depression.
People with panic
disorder also frequently have panic attacks at home and it has been
noted that many attacks actually occur shortly after 1:30 a.m.
Nocturnal panics usually occur between one and four hours after the
onset of sleep, and many people have actually said that nocturnal
panic is even more severe than daytime attacks. These nocturnal panic
attacks are very different from daytime attacks in that there is no
physical activity causing the arousal and that the person is actually
in a relaxed state with lowered blood pressure, reduced respiration
and reduced heart rate.
People with panic
disorder and agoraphobia usually seek ways to adapt to their fears.
Some may work or live in a first-floor apartment in an effort to not
be trapped on an elevator. Others may have someone accompany them to
stores or may use the telephone to shop or shop online. Some of these
individuals self-medicate with alcohol and sedative drugs in order to
deal with their panic symptoms and fears, and may actually develop
substance abuse or dependence as their primary diagnosis. Many
clinicians have found that the panic disorder sometimes does not even
present itself until after detoxification has began.
Information adapted from Treatment Plans and Interventions for
Depression and Anxiety Disorders by Robert L. Leahy and Stephen J.
Webpage and additional
information By Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate
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