Panic

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Okay, so the title of this article may have been purloined from the inaugural address of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, but it also serves as an excellent introduction to that aspect of anxiety known as panic disorder, a condition that can be borne of just one or even several panic attacks. A panic attack is several things at once, none of them fun. 

It’s an episode of intense fear or foreboding terror that’s usually accompanied by unpleasant bodily sensations (such as dizziness and shaking, smothering or choking sensations, a pounding heart, feeling sick, dizzy or not really there and more), together with a difficulty in reasoning, coupled with a sense of imminent danger or impending doom, followed by the urge to get the hell out of wherever it is you are.

Panic attacks are an intense psychological condition, but are usually experienced as one-off events, usually in the face of an anxiety-provoking or stressful situation.

They can occur as a symptom on their own or be associated with other conditions, such as agoraphobia, social phobia, a specific phobia or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And, sometimes, they lead to panic disorder.

Panic Disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as the presence of recurrent unexpected panic attacks, followed by at least one month of either:

  • Persistent anxiety about having more attacks
  • Worry about the possible implication or consequences of the attacks
  • A marked change in behaviour because of the attacks (such as avoiding certain situations)
  • During the attacks, at least four of the following sensations or feelings are experienced: shortness of breath, dizziness or faintness, increased heart rate or a pounding heart, trembling or shaking, feelings of choking, sweating, stomach distress or nausea, feeling like you or your surroundings are not quite real, feelings of numbness or tingling, hot flushes or chills, chest pains or discomfort, fear of dying, fear of losing control, fear of going mad
  • The attacks are not directly caused by a drug or general medical condition

So, if you’re suffering from this particular disorder, not only will you be worrying about the implications and consequences of having another panic attack (literally making yourself anxious about getting anxious) but you’ll also probably be scared that you’re either losing your mind or are going to die from the massive amounts of anxiety you experience.

Great, huh? But, what do you do if you’re dealing with either one?

 Tips

  • Do not self-diagnose yourself with either condition, instead get checked out by your GP. Conditions that mimic panic include hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, seizure disorders and cardiac conditions
  • Substance intoxication (i.e., drink or drugs) or withdrawal (i.e., hangovers and comedowns) can also mimic panic symptoms
  • If you are having a panic attack, breathe! Breathe in deeply and slowly, in through your nose, hold for 10 seconds and out through you nose. When you panic, you hyperventilate, this leads to a fall in the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and rise in oxygen levels, a lovely little condition known as hypocapnoea (which results in the various symptoms of a panic attack)
  • There is nothing to fear but fear itself! Hence the title of this piece. Remember, this is an anxiety disorder so, you are not going mad, you are not going to die and nothing awful is about to happen!
  • Think ahead, focus on what you are about to do: such as arriving at your destination, or what you will be doing in an hour’s time, this moves your focus away from what you are experiencing

 

Finally, if you have been diagnosed with panic attacks or panic disorder, then you need find yourself a reputable therapist.

CBT is considered the ‘gold standard’ treatment for most anxiety disorders, whilst hypnotherapy is also a highly effective therapeutic tool for helping you to manage your distress.

Even more reassuringly, studies have shown that the two therapies combined are more effective than either one alone.

Now, isn’t that good to know?