Panic Disorder Treatment and Information
What is a Panic Disorder?
Considering how they affect about 11 percent of the population, it’s safe to say that panic attacks are quite common. But what if you’re constantly worried about experiencing another panic attack? That’s when you start making major changes to your lifestyle to prevent the risk of another attack. This includes avoiding people, places, and events to the point that it impairs functioning. These are telltale signs of a panic disorder. This article will discuss the condition, its symptoms, and available treatment options.
Panic disorder falls under the anxiety disorders category and is characterized by frequent and unexpected panic attacks. During an attack, you may feel like you’re losing control, despite the absence of an apparent threat. Other feelings include fear and discomfort, which can peak within minutes and overwhelm you. Experiencing a panic attack doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop a disorder. However, the frequency of attacks varies between people with the disorder. You may experience panic attacks every day or a few times a week.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
When you have panic disorder, a major symptom is panic attacks. The most common panic disorder symptoms include feeling overwhelmed and afraid that something may happen to you.
- You’re worried about when the next attack will occur
- You’ll avoid places where you previously experienced a panic attack
- During a panic attack, you’ll show physical symptoms like trembling, chest pain, trouble breathing, or chills.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
During a panic attack, your body’s fight or flight response activates in the absence of any danger. Factors that can activate this response include
- Sudden stressful experience
- Long-term stress
- Sudden change in your environment
How Long Can a Panic Attack Last?
Panic attacks are usually short-lived, but they reach their peak in about 10 minutes, so it’s important that you’re prepared for the symptoms. The attack can last between 10 and 30 minutes, and symptoms can alleviate as soon as it ends.
How Common Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks have a lifetime prevalence rate of about 11 percent among the US population. This makes them quite common, but remember that experiencing a panic attack doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop a panic disorder. Only a small percentage of people who go through panic attacks end up with panic disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 2.7 percent of American adults were diagnosed with panic disorder last year. There’s also a disparity in the prevalence rate among men and women. Women have a higher prevalence rate of 3.8 percent, while men have a rate of 1.6 percent.
How is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?
To diagnose you with panic disorder, your mental health practitioner must compare your symptoms with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria.
- You should have experienced a panic attack with at least four symptoms such as trembling, fear of dying, increased heart rate, and sweating.
- After an attack, you should experience one or both of the following for at least one month: a concern about going through another panic attack and a significant negative change in your behavior, such as avoiding unfamiliar places.
- The symptoms shouldn’t result from a preexisting medical condition or substance use.
- The symptoms shouldn’t occur due to another mental disorder.
Distress and impairment are the main differentiators between someone who has experienced panic attacks and someone with a disorder.
Tests for Panic Disorder
Your physician may conduct a test to evaluate your medical history and ask about your symptoms. This is so that they can rule out the possibility of your symptoms occurring due to a medical reason. You’ll also undergo a psychiatric evaluation by a mental health professional to ensure that you don’t have other mental disorders that could be causing the symptoms.
Therapies to Treat Panic Disorder
One of the first types is individual psychotherapy, also known as talking therapy. It involves you speaking to a therapist one-on-one to discuss your symptoms and explore possible causes. Psychodynamic therapy is a common approach to individual psychotherapy. It aims to bring unconscious conflicts into awareness so you understand why you’re experiencing panic symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This is a structured form of psychotherapy that focuses on the link between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A core principle of CBT is that you can change how you perceive things, even if you can’t change current circumstances. Your therapist will work with you to identify and change negative thoughts by replacing them with a healthier thinking process.
Of course, this is only the first phase – the second aspect involves building coping skills to change your behavior. Through these strategies, you can alleviate stress and manage anxiety symptoms to get through a panic attack without engaging in avoidance behavior.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
DBT is a variation of cognitive behavioral therapy that is suitable for people who experience emotions more intensely. It’s made up of four components, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, mindfulness, and, most importantly, distress tolerance. In this therapy, your therapist will apply these principles to change your behavior patterns. When you avoid certain actions and implement skills like mindfulness and acceptance, you prevent anxiety from getting worse.
Besides one-on-one psychotherapy, another evidence-based treatment is group therapy. In this therapeutic setting, one or more therapists will facilitate the process. You can expect to interact with three or more members. During group therapy, you learn about the condition and practice problem-solving through activities such as goal setting, skill-building, and sharing exercises. This method offers various benefits as well. For instance, you can gain social support and learn about how other people manage symptoms by listening to their stories.
FAQs for Panic Disorder Treatment
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding treating panic disorder.
During an attack, you experience panic attack symptoms like breathlessness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and shaking. While these symptoms aren’t dangerous on their own, they can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Here are some ways to manage symptoms when you experience a panic attack.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine, as these can impact neurotransmitter levels and worsen symptoms.
- Stabilize blood sugar levels by eating at regular intervals
- Manage stress with regular exercise
Most importantly, practice daily breathing exercises so that when a panic attack occurs, you’re able to ‘ride it out.’
If someone around you experiences a panic attack, they may become withdrawn, look flustered, or start shaking. You may also notice changes in their breathing patterns. In some cases, there are no physical symptoms, and you simply feel like something’s wrong. It’s best to check in with the person and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. If they don’t respond, you can help them treat panic attacks by:
- Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths.
- Helping them focus with structured and repetitive activities, like counting slowly
- Avoiding surprising or startling them
- Use simple and short sentences when speaking to them
- Move them to a quiet place
- Give them some space but stay nearby
- Stay with them until they ride it out
In addition to being supportive and reassuring, you can also offer them some cold water to help them calm down.
You should see your doctor after the first time you experience a panic attack. That’s because you’ll probably be unaware of what you just encountered. When you’re going through a panic attack, it can feel like a physical illness, which can lead to significant impairment in everyday functions. It’s best to see your doctor, who will then refer you to a mental health practitioner to alleviate the risk of it happening again.
A common way to deal with panic attacks is to try breathing exercises to calm yourself down. Start by inhaling deeply with your nose, and then exhale slowly with your mouth. To make sure that you’re not breathing too fast, you can count from one to find with each inhale and exhale. Similarly, you can try the 3 3 3 grounding technique, where you identify three things you can hear, see, and touch.
When you present to your psychiatrist with panic attacks, it’s likely that they’ll prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Although these types of medications are traditionally antidepressants, they can also help manage an anxiety disorder. They affect the levels of neurotransmitters in a way that reduces the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. These medications are safe, FDA-approved, and cause few side effects, which makes them an effective component of a long-term treatment plan.
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