For a long time, I suffered from panic attacks and panic disorder. The same conditions that impacts about 3 percent of Americans.
A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming rush of anxiety and fear.
During an attack, your heart pounds so hard you may think it's about to leap out of your chest. You can't breathe and begin to hyperventilate. You may feel like you're about to pass out, die or lose control.
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Panic attacks can happen out of the blue, with no warning. You can be relaxed or even sleeping and still suffer a panic attack.
Attacks could also be a one-time thing or be a frequent and unwanted visitor.
Panic attacks usually happen as a result of a traumatic event. My traumatic incident was the night I wrecked my car in November 2000.
After the accident things changed.
Well, that's not entirely true.
For almost three months afterward, I was totally fine. Other than the stress that came with wrecking my car, and coming within a breath of meeting my Maker, I was just fine.
I didn't have any symptoms of PTSD. Heck, I even drove with no problems.
I didn't feel particularly stressed out. Well, no more than usual. Everything was under control. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to February 2001. Valentine's Day. I was driving to a job interview and...
I was hit.
Not by a car.
It was a panic attack. Right out of nowhere. I pulled onto the side of the road before my mind had a chance to register what was happening.
Flight or fight had kicked in. My fear antenna was on high alert for danger.
That's anxiety for you. After a traumatic event, you may feel just fine for days, weeks or in my case months. Then WHAM, a panic attack grabs you by the throat.
Most panic attacks last past 20 or 30 minutes. By then your body begins to relax, and the fight or flight antenna is no longer on high alert.
If you've had a panic attack, you're all too familiar these signs and symptoms.
I suffered from a combination of sensations:
•Heart palpitations or racing heart (This was one of my major symptoms.)
•Discomfort in your chest or chest pain
•Trembling or shaking
•Tightening feeling in your throat
•Feeling detached from the world around you ( I felt like I was living in a Twilight Zone episode)
•Ringing or plugged up sensation in one or both ears
•Nausea or upset stomach
•Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint (This was especially scary)
•Numbness or tingling sensations all over your body (Mine occurred in my fingers and my thighs.)
•Hot or cold flashes
•Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy (Another big symptom for me!)
Now that we've covered panic attacks let's look at panic disorder.
What's the difference you ask?
Having a few panic attacks here and there is one thing. But if you have frequent panic attacks you may be suffering from a panic disorder.
Panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder, can develop as a result of:
•Having multiple and unexpected panic attacks.
•Fear and worry about having another panic attack.
•Avoiding places and doing things that have brought on panic attacks in the past.
If panic attacks aren't treated, you may develop agoraphobia. In the past, agoraphobia was linked to fear of wide open spaces or public places.
Agoraphobia is actually a complication of having frequent panic attacks that lead to avoiding things, places, and situations that caused attacks.
The more situations you avoid, the smaller your world gets.
Soon the panic may get so bad that home may feel like the only safe place.
Here are some situations and activities you may avoid if you have agoraphobia:
•Going far away from home
•Any physical exertion that you believe may trigger a panic attack
•Restaurants, theaters, stores, or public transportation. In short, any place where you feel trapped.
•Being around people such as a party or event where having a panic attack will be embarrassing for you.
I have some great news for you. Panic attacks and panic disorder are highly treatable. Therapy sessions and self-help techniques can help you successfully manage symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular and effective treatment for panic disorder.
This therapy empowers you to change how you react to situations that trigger those panic attacks.
This article provides more information on effective therapies for anxiety disorders.
EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is great for diffusing panic attacks. This video shows you how it's done.
Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms – Get an overview of panic disorder, including the symptoms, causes, and treatment.
Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia –This will help you understand how panic disorder can lead to agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia – Shows techniques for overcoming agoraphobia.
I hope this article, Understanding Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder, helps you on your journey to better mental health!
Brighter skies are ahead,
Feel free to reach out to me anytime: