Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder which causes people to have a sudden wave of panic or fear, often referred to as a panic attack. During a panic attack, people can report feeling completely overwhelmed and have a sense of being out of control. Sometimes there is a clear trigger that causes somebody to have a panic attack, but at other times it can feel completely out of the blue.

Panic disorder can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. For some people, having a panic attack is a very scary experience, and for some people they can occur multiple times per day. Sometimes people learn to identify situations or circumstances that tend to trigger a panic attack, and will try to avoid these situations, in order to reduce the frequency of their panic attacks. Unfortunately, this avoidance can mean that people stop doing things they enjoy or stop going out and about as much.

Signs and symptoms of Panic Attack

  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety or fear
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Sweating and feeling hot
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands
  • Dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • Feeling afraid of dying
  • Catastrophic thoughts about what is happening
  • A feeling as though you aren’t connected to your body

Panic attacks generally last between 5-20 minutes, though some people report they can last longer than this. The number of panic attacks per day will differ from individual to individual, depending how severe their panic disorder is. For some people, they only experience them from time to time, perhaps once every month or so. However for other people, they can occur multiple times per day, becoming quite debilitating.

What type of therapy can help?

The most common model of therapy for treating panic attacks and panic disorder is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy can help people to identify what triggers their panic attacks and whether the trigger is something external, or internal (for example a thought or worry that they have). CBT might also help an individual notice how they react or respond to a panic attack and what type of thoughts go through their head when they are experiencing one. People can often learn new ways of reacting and responding to panic attacks, to help them keep calm and to understand and rationalise what is happening to their body.

Mindfulness can also be used to help treat panic attacks, either alongside another type of therapy or sometimes people find this helpful in and of itself. Mindfulness can help people to feel a sense of calm, and also help them to maintain their focus on the here and now, grounding themselves in the present.

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