A panic attack is a sudden and recurrent episode of intense fear or anxiety, which triggers severe physical reactions, even though there is no real danger or apparent cause. The panic disorder is an anxiety disorder represented by recurring panic attacks.
To deal with panic disorder, you must learn how to tackle panic attacks.
About panic attacks
Panic attacks can be very worrying. When a panic attack occurs, you may think that you are losing control, that you have a heart attack, or that you are even dying. Many people have one or two panic attacks in their lifetime.
The problem disappears, probably when the stressful situation ends. However, if you are experiencing recurring, unexpected panic attacks and have long periods of constant fear or fear of another attack, you probably have a condition called panic disorder.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Usually, a panic attack starts suddenly, without alarm signals. It can happen at any time — when you drive, when you are at the mall, when you are about to fall asleep, or when you are in a business meeting.
Panic attacks can be occasional or frequent. They can have many variations, but the symptoms can reach their peak within a few minutes. After a panic attack, you may feel tired and exhausted.
Generally, a panic attack includes some signs or symptoms:
- the feeling of imminent danger
- fear of losing control or fear of death
- palpitations, fast heart rate
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- abdominal cramps
- the feeling of detachment from reality
People who have had panic attacks may fear that these feelings will return so that they will avoid certain situations, such as leaving the house, coming into contact with other people, and so on. In reality, that doesn’t matter.
About panic disorders
For the diagnosis of panic disorder, the following aspects are taken into account in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association:
- you have frequent, frequent panic attacks
- at least one of the panic attacks was followed for a month or more by continued care (anxiety symptoms) in connection with another possible panic attack — constant fear of the consequences of an attack, such as loss of control, fear of going crazy, significant changes in behavior, such as avoiding situations that you think could trigger a panic attack
- panic attacks are not caused by drugs or other substances, a medical condition, another mental illness, such as a social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- even if you have panic attacks, but do not have a diagnosis of panic disorder, you can benefit from treatment. If panic attacks are not treated, they can worsen and develop into panic disorder or phobias
Leading causes of panic disorder
There are certain factors that may play a role in triggering panic disorder:
- genetic inheritance
- increased sensitivity to stressful situations
- the tendency to negative emotions
- specific changes in brain functions
- different mental and behavioral disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on
- consumption of certain substances — panic disorder might also be induced by the abusive use of nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
Treatment of panic disorder and panic attacks
Psychotherapy is considered the first effective treatment option for panic attacks and panic disorder. Psychotherapy can help you understand panic attacks and panic disorder and can teach you how to deal with them.
The results of the treatment require time and effort. You will begin to see that the symptoms of panic attacks subside within a few weeks, and, most of the time, the symptoms subside significantly or disappear entirely within a few months.
Medications can help reduce the symptoms associated with panic attacks and depression if this is also a problem.
Certain types of medications are proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of panic attacks:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
All these medications have risks and side effects, and some of them are not recommended in certain situations, such as pregnancy. Discuss these issues with your doctor.
Change your lifestyle
Panic attacks and panic disorder can be alleviated with specialized help, but there are strategies you can apply to better manage your symptoms without medication.
What you can try:
- join a support group that shares the same problem with you
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs
- practice stress management and relaxation techniques
- do sports
- get enough sleep
- practice yoga
- use natural remedies, such as valerian, chamomile, or lavender tea
Panic disorder is not something you can deal with by yourself without making some changes, at least. If you have frequent panic attacks, then, most likely, you suffer from panic disorder.
If that’s the case, you can go visit your doctor for help, but you can also deal with panic disorder by changing your lifestyle.