Panic disorders are in the larger class of anxiety disorders, which are mental health disorders defined by the feelings of anxiety and fear that sufferers experience. Other conditions under the umbrella of anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and separation anxiety, among others.
Signs of Panic Disorder
A patient with panic disorder experiences uncontrollable, unreasonable and unexpected sensations of fear that usually last for around 10 minutes but can be over in 60 seconds or continue until someone provides help. Individually, these episodes are known as panic attacks. The fear is usually based in the worry of something bad happening, something going wrong, or the patient losing control of his or her life, even when there is no real danger. In fact, one of the distinguishing characteristics of panic disorder is that the panic has to be disproportionate to the situation – a relatively minor incident can trigger a full-blown panic attack.
In addition to the above, symptoms of panic disorder can include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomach/chest pain
According to PsychCentral, if the symptoms and altered behavior (avoidance and anticipatory anxiety) are in place for a month, then this might be a sign of a panic disorder.
Panic disorder can be so debilitating that people with the condition can actively dread the possibility of experiencing another panic attack, to the point that they go out of their way to avoid the people and places they fear may trigger an attack. The anticipatory anxiety of a panic attack can create problems in and of itself, as the patient may resort to never leaving his or her home, or may withdraw from activities, hobbies, and social engagements for fear of doing anything or being anywhere where their panic disorder might set in. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 33 percent of people with panic disorder become shut-ins.
Panic disorder is so common that the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that around six million Americans experience panic attacks in a year. Twice as many women develop panic disorder as men, possibly due to hormonal differences that may be exacerbated by certain medications and lifestyles.
Panic Disorder and Drugs and Alcohol
The problem of panic disorder can be so debilitating that patients turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate – to make themselves feel better about their situation, or to work up the courage to overcome their anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, using controlled substances in this way can lead to an unhealthy addiction to them, compounding the problems caused by the initial panic disorder.
Furthermore, the National Alliance on Mental Illness warns that drugs and alcohol might be triggers for panic disorder.
How Can Panic Disorder Be Treated?
Treating panic disorder usually has two approaches – one is with a course of medication, like the administration of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) for alleviating anxiety and depression. Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, are another popular pharmaceutical option; they relax muscles and create a mildly sedating and anti-anxiety effect in patients.
The second arm of treating panic disorder is psychotherapy, when a mental health professional works with the patient on breaking down the mechanics of a panic attack. This might involve the patient learning how to control their thoughts and behaviors, or to develop the tools to cope with the feelings of anxiety and tension that predict a panic attack, so that they are no longer at the mercy of the disorder.
If you are one of the six million people who struggle with panic disorder and the fear of losing control in response to a stressful event, you don’t have to resign yourself to a lifetime of fear. We can help you take control of your life back. Please call us today to find out how Black Bear Lodge can help you.