Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks)
Panic disorder is a form of anxiety which causes individuals to have recurring panic attacks. During a panic attack, normal bodily sensations become catastrophically misinterpreted by the sufferer who then views these as a threat. During a panic attack an individual may become convinced that the physical sensations they feel must be a symptom of a life-threatening illness such as a heart-attack or stroke. Panic attacks are often described as coming out of the blue, from nowhere without an obvious trigger. This can mean that a person can feel fine one minute and out of control the next and in the grip of a panic attack. As well as causing intense fear and terrifying thoughts panic attacks also produce very real physical symptoms that provide further "evidence" to the sufferer that something must be wrong with them. Physical symptoms include a racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking, nausea, dizziness and feeling faint. During a panic attack a person may feel convinced that they are going to die and these thoughts and feelings can have a devastating affect on their ability to cope day to day.
Panic Attack symptoms
During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up with alarming speed causing a "crescendo" of anxiety. These symptoms include:
A panic attack can cause you to believe that your life in danger and you feel as though you are:
What is the treatment for Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder can be treated effectively with a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. CBT can help us to gain more understanding about the symptoms of our panic attacks as well as the thoughts and behaviours that we tend to adopt when we feel a panic attack coming on. When we look more closely at the thoughts and behaviours that seem to help when we feel panicky we can often be surprised to learn that these are actually keeping the disorder going in the long-term. Safety and avoidant behaviours refer to any behaviours that appear to give some relief from the panic symptoms - for example if you feel dizzy and light-headed during a panic attack you might believe that you need to find somewhere quiet and sit down. If you somehow feel better when you sit down it's easy to see that you will soon build up a belief that this is what you must do every time you experience a panic attack and, since our brains tend to encourage us to repeat behaviours that seem to work, you'll carry on doing this every time you feel this way. In reality though, sitting down is unlikely to have contributed anything to the sense of relief you now feel and in the process you will have missed a valuable opportunity to test out the possibility that your anxiety would have subsided on its own without actually doing anything at all other than insisting that you remain standing. This is because anxiety creates the belief that we are under and immediate threat and need to do something to protect ourselves but the fact is that anxiety tends to decrease the more we learn to tolerate it - it may well feel unpleasant in the moment but eventually the intensity of the feelings will reduce and the panic will fade away. This means that the key to overcoming a panic attack is to simply stay with and tolerate the feelings - the more that we can allow ourselves to experience our anxious thoughts and feelings the less scary they will feel and the more we will learn to manage them more effectively.