Panic disorder can be incredibly debilitating and affects 2-3% of the population each year, with women being more frequently affected than men. Panic Disorder is having frequent and reoccurring panic attacks accompanied with a feeling of extreme fear and anxiety. Oftentimes the sufferer feels completely out of control of these attacks, which can occur seemingly out of nowhere and can be accompanied by an increase in heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, and a feeling of doom. Often, just the possibility of having another attack can make the sufferer anxious and can contribute to a more isolated way of living. Those who experience less than 4 of the symptoms listed below above might have Limited Symptom Panic Attacks, which are similar to but less intense than a full blown panic attack.
How can I identify Panic Disorder?
· Increased Heart Rate
· Uncontrollable sweating
· Racing thoughts
· A feeling of impending doom and fear
· Shortness of breath
· Getting the ‘chills’
· Feeling weak, faint or dizzy
· Chest pain
· Depersonalization (feeling outside of one’s body looking in)
· Nausea or stomach upset
Common compulsions in Panic Disorder
Those who experience these severe attacks usually begin to develop compensatory behaviors to try to avoid having them. Common compulsions associated with panic disorder can include:
· Avoidance of spaces where the sufferer fears they might be triggered
· Seeking reassurance from friends and family that they won’t be triggered
· Using ritualistic prayers or activities to try to ensure that they won’t get triggered
· Ruminating about ways to avoid having a panic attack
Treatment of Panic Disorder
Sometimes, when panic is extremely severe, a person might develop Agoraphobia, which is a fear of going outside the home due to the possibility of an attack. Panic attacks are one of the most frightening experiences of anxiety we can have, and oftentimes are a sign that we need to address stress and anxiety in our lives. Thankfully, with the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and Acceptance practices, and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) panic and Agoraphobia can be managed in the long term. Interoceptive Exposures are used specifically for the treatment of Panic, and involve the therapist gently bringing about the symptoms of panic (hyperventilation, high muscle tension) to slowly desensitize the client to these feelings. Because Panic Disorder is essentially a fear of having a panic attack, Interoceptive Exposures are a key component to treatment.