What is Panic Disorder?

Malcolm Tatum

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that includes the occurrence of panic attacks. Often, there is little to no warning that a panic attack is about to occur, which only adds to the heightened anxiety already experienced by the individual. If left untreated, panic disorder can lead to the development of other emotional problems, including a wide range of phobias.

Individuals with panic disorder may become fearful of having panic attacks in the future.
Individuals with panic disorder may become fearful of having panic attacks in the future.

While the degree of severity will range from one individual to another, a person who suffers from panic disorder will often exhibit at least a core group of symptoms. Common panic disorder symptoms include sensitivity to light and sound, ringing in the ears, extreme mental and physical fatigue, insomnia, and a feeling of being mentally and emotionally frail. Part of the reason for these symptoms is that the nervous system is over-sensitized. In this state, sounds and movements that normally would trigger little-to-no conscious response become almost impossible to process.

A fear of panicking in social situations may lead to agoraphobia.
A fear of panicking in social situations may lead to agoraphobia.

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Along with the constant sense of being over-stimulated, a person living with panic disorder frequently experiences episodes known as panic attacks. During a panic attack, the individual may feel as if he or she is about to lose consciousness, become insane, or even die. Some people also experience an overwhelming urge to flee or to remove themselves from other people, especially if the attack occurs in a public setting.

For some, riding in an elevator may bring on a panic attack.
For some, riding in an elevator may bring on a panic attack.

While a typical panic attack only lasts for a moment or so, most people with this type of disorder experience a series of attacks that follow in close succession. As one attack begins to subside, another attack begins to build up as the subconscious anticipates the recurrence. To the individual with panic disorder, this makes it seem as if a panic attack lasts for anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or longer.

Embracing a panic attack may allow it to subside faster.
Embracing a panic attack may allow it to subside faster.

Because of the negative impact a panic disorder has on the ability of the individual to function, it is not unusual for agoraphobia to develop. Essentially, agoraphobia is a fear of being in a public setting. This fear often comes about because the individual is afraid of experiencing a panic attack while around other people. Coupled with the onslaught of visual and audio stimuli that is often present in public places, the individual begins to avoid any place that holds the potential to trigger an attack.

Overcoming panic disorder generally takes time.
Overcoming panic disorder generally takes time.

Many people assume that the best way to control a panic attack is to resist it. However, some mental health specialists recommend a process that involves embracing the attack, recognizing that the worst does not come to pass, and thus begin to rob the attacks of their power. Similar treatments, such as CBT or Cognitive Behavior Therapy, can also help patients deal with panic disorder and any related health phobias that may have developed over time.

A person with a panic disorder usually experiences brief episodes of intense anxiety and terror called panic attacks.
A person with a panic disorder usually experiences brief episodes of intense anxiety and terror called panic attacks.

Medication is also often helpful during recovery from panic disorder. Various types of anti-anxiety medication provide some degree or relief within minutes. If depression has developed as a result of this type of disorder, the physician may sometimes prescribe an anti-depressant. In situations where the disorder is caused by poor diet and exercise habits coupled with an extended period of stress, the physician may also recommend a vitamin regimen. The vitamins help to reinvigorate the body’s weakened immune system and provide the nervous system with the nutrition necessary to restore mental and emotional balance.

Many people turn to herbal remedies in order to deal with panic disorder. Some of the most commonly employed herbs include lemon balm, chamomile, peppermint, skullcap, Hawthorne berries, St. John’s Wort, and Passion Flower. However, it is important to never take herbs along with prescription medicines without first consulting with a physician, as many herbs can trigger an adverse reaction when coupled with medication.

Insomnia can be a symptom of panic disorder.
Insomnia can be a symptom of panic disorder.

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