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Panic Disorder: Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever felt so anxious that it led to dizziness, shortness of breath, and a pounding heartbeat? Imagine having these panic attacks frequently and out of the blue. Find out more about panic disorder and panic disorder treatment options.

Panic disorder is a psychological condition that produces an abnormally high number of panic attacks. You feel incredibly nervous and agitated, often without a reasonable cause. It’s one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders and can lower your overall quality of life.

Psychologically speaking, panic disorder originates in your brain. Its fear center, or amygdala, becomes hyperactive during a panic attack. Your nervous system’s “fight or flight” response kicks in, making you panic like there’s a real, physical threat to your survival.

Panic disorder is often linked with other physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Thankfully, different treatment options exist to help manage panic disorder symptoms.

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The defining characteristic of panic disorder is having severe and unpredictable panic attacks. Anything could trigger them – whether it’s a stressful situation, being in a public place, or even thinking a particular thought. It might happen while you’re watching TV, going for a walk, or when you’re at work. 

Panic attacks typically end after a few minutes but tend to have lasting effects like fatigue or exhaustion. Those living with panic disorder regularly observe the following panic disorder symptoms: 

  • Feeling like something terrible or dangerous is about to happen
  • Having an intense fear of dying
  • Sweating or hot flashes
  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Chills, dizziness, or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations throughout the body
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, or cramping

If you’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder, you might display some or all of these symptoms during a panic attack. This creates a fear of the panic attacks themselves, resulting in a vicious cycle of fear.

What are the underlying reasons for panic disorder? Since the condition originates in your brain, genetics may play a role in frequent panic attacks. 

It’s also possible for panic disorder to present after a traumatic event or when you’ve consumed excessive amounts of caffeine. Substance abuse is another culprit behind panic disorder, which might be a symptom of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.

Ironically, when you have panic disorder, you’re hypervigilant about noticing the sensations associated with anxiety. Whenever you think you feel anxious, you worry a panic attack is looming, and that fear is what triggers new attacks.

How does your doctor determine if you have panic disorder? Aside from struggling with unexpected attacks, you’re worried about additional attacks, as well as what might happen if another attack occurs. With panic disorder, you’ll behave very differently from the way you did before the attacks began. 

Once diagnosed, there are many approaches to treating panic disorder, including psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications.

Consider trying relaxation or visualization techniques to manage the symptoms of panic disorder. Your doctor or therapist might also recommend certain lifestyle changes to reduce stress, in addition to cutting out caffeine or alcohol. 

Without proper treatment, panic disorder can be incredibly debilitating. It dramatically affects your emotional and mental well-being and decreases your quality of life.

  • Panic disorder leads you to avoid social situations or be afraid of leaving home. Some patients develop agoraphobia or fear of being in a place from which you cannot escape. 
  • Work or school issues could arise due to absenteeism or a lack of focus. 
  • There’s an increased chance for depression or other psychiatric disorders associated with suicide or suicidal thoughts. 
  • You might abuse drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with your feelings of anxiety. 
  • Panic disorder often creates a lack of self-sufficiency. You rely on friends or family members to do things for you to avoid panic attack-inducing activities.

It’s not possible to completely prevent panic disorder from developing; however, there are a few steps you can take to lessen its symptoms. In general, avoid eating or drinking products that contain caffeine, such as soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate. Lead a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle with routine exercise and plenty of sleep.

If you feel a panic attack coming on, try some of these strategies to calm yourself down: 

  • Take slow, deep breaths to prevent hyperventilating, which aggravates symptoms of panic disorder. 
  • Remind yourself that it’s temporary – you’re not about to die or have a heart attack ‒ and the symptoms will pass. Come up with a mantra you can repeat to yourself in these situations. 
  • Close your eyes to avoid seeing possible triggers. Focus your attention inwards and listen to your breathing. 
  • Practice mindfulness by concentrating on physical sensations. Notice the feeling of your clothing on your skin, or try rooting your feet into the ground. 
  • Alternatively, consider focusing all of your attention on a single object. Note everything you can about it: shape, color, texture, sound, smell, or taste.
  • Consciously relax your muscles one at a time. Try scanning your body from head to toe, releasing the tension in each muscle along the way.
  • Imagine a quiet, calm, safe place. Visualize that setting as if you were in it right now. 

Do your best to be prepared for a panic attack. Try these strategies beforehand so you’ll already be familiar with them should another attack strike.

Panic attack disorder is a chronic psychological condition that is capable of completely changing the way you live your life. If you’re experiencing frequent panic attacks or show symptoms of panic disorder, it's a good idea to speak with your doctor. Engage in self-care and learn coping strategies to control any future attacks. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1444835/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4451-panic-disorder/prevention

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-stop-a-panic-attack

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860526/

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