We have all experienced that gut-wrenching fear when suddenly faced with a threatening or dangerous situation. Crossing the street as a car shoots out of nowhere, losing a child in the playground or hearing someone scream fire in a crowded theater. The momentarz panic sends chills down our spines, causes our hearts to beat wildly, our stomachs to knot and our minds to fill with terror. When the danger passes, so do the symptoms. We are relieved that the dreaded terror didn´t happen and we move on.
But now imagine standing in line in a grocery store talking with a neighbour when suddenly, out of the blue, you feel as if you are in the throws of an impending disaster. Your heart is pounding out of your chest, you feel tingly, sweaty and lightheaded. You are convinced you are going to pass out, lose your mind, make a fool of yourself, or perhaps, even die. Then as quickly as the feelings came on, they passed. You have had a panic attack. You are exhausted, confused and wondering. “What if it happens again?”
People who experience spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of it happening again have a serious, yet treatable condition called Panic Disorder (PD). The attacks which develop abruptly and reach a peak within a few minutes, occur unexpectedly, sometimes even while the person is asleep.
While 3.5% of people are likely to develop PD at some point in their life, approximately 8% will experience the key symptom of Panic Disorder: a panic attack. At least twice as many women as men suffer from the condition.
What is Agoraphobia?
Some people with Panic Disorder begin avoiding places or situations where they previously had a panic attack, in anticipation of it happening again. Typically they avoid public places where immediate escape would be difficult, such as shopping malls, public transportation or large sports arenas. There people have ´agoraphobia´. Their world may become smaller and smaller, as they are constantly on guard for the next attack. About one in three people with Panic Disorder develops agoraphobia. SOme become ´territory-bound´, using a fixed route between home and work or always have a ´safe person´ accompany them places. Others are only comfortable venturing out by themselves. In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia may not leave the house, or do so only if absolutely necessary.
What is the difference between normal anxiety and Panic Disorder?
|Normal Anxiety||Panic Disorder|
|Panicking because the school called to tell you your child was injured on the playground.||Sitting in the movie theatre and suddenly, out of the blue, having a panic attack that makes you feel as you were going to lose control of yourself and start screaming.|
|Being scared and anxious about driving on a dark road alone at night.||Being preoccupied with the fear of having a panic attack or passing out while driving for no apparent reason.|
|Anxiously anticipating a job evaluation.||Relentless, irrational and overwhelming fear of experiencing the next panic attack, even though there is no apparent threat or danger.|
How can Panic Disorder affect your life?
From the terrifying and confusing symptoms of the attacks themselves to the constant fear of having another attach – Panic Disorder can be frightening, disruptive and debilitating.
Since many of the symptoms mimic those found in illnesses like heart disease, thyroid problems and breathing disorders, people experiencing panic attacks often make multiple visits to emergency rooms or to doctors´clinics, convinced they have a life-threatening illness. It often takes months or years and lots of frustration before getting a proper diagnosis. Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones, about what they are experiencing for fear of being thought of as a hypochondriac. Instead, they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family and others who could be helpful.
Complicating the picture is the fact that Panic Disorder often co-occurs with other mental and physical disorders including other anxiety disorders, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and substance abuse. This may further increase the difficulty in getting a proper diagnosis and treatment.
What causes Panic Disorder?
While the exact cause of Panic Disorder is unknown, research suggests that a combination of a person´s biology or genes, personality and environmental factors all contribute to the onset and development of Panic Disorder.
What treatments are available?
Fortunately, most individuals who seek treatment for Panic Disorder and other anxiety disorders see significant improvement and enjoy a better quality of life. A variety of treatment options exist including cognitive-behavioural theraphy, exposure theraphy, anxiety management and medications. One, or a combination of these, may be recommended. It is important to remember that there is no single “right” treatment. What works for one persona may or may not be the best choice for someone else. A course of treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Ask your doctor to explain why a particular type of treatment is being recommended, what other options are available and what you need to do to fully participate in your recovery.
Take Five & Manage your Anxiety
Whether you have normal anxiety or an anxiety disorder, these strategies will help you cope:
Go for a walk or jog. Do joga. Dance, Just get moving!
2. Talk to someone
….Spouse, significant other, friend, child or doctor.
3. Keep a daily journal
Become aware of what triggers your anxiety.
4. Eat a balanced diet.
Don´t skip meals. Avoid caffeine which can trigger anxiety symptoms.
5. Consult your family doctor
Let your doctor help you.