Everyone experiences some level of anxiety. It is a normal human emotion, which occurs for various reasons and at varying levels. Some people have anxieties about the future, some about finances, others about the darkness or being alone, and still others about being in crowds.
These are only a few instances when the feeling of panic is prevalent, and many people may experience one or more at the same without being considered or diagnosed as having a mental ill-health condition.
It is when anxious thoughts become all-pervading and cripple the actions or mind of an individual that it may be the sign of a debilitating condition. The escalation may be symptomatic of an anxiety disorder requiring treatment that may include medication and therapy.
Anxiety disorders include but are not limited to generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder. Anxiety disorders are a recurring condition similar to the heart-wrenching seizures we get in crises and bouts of hyperventilation that many of us may have experienced, but the symptoms are more severe.
It is widely known and accepted that panic disorder often occurs along with other conditions, such as depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse. The condition seems to be an inherited one, but abnormalities of the brain, substance abuse and major stresses in life are all contributors or causes.
Many people begin having panic attacks in adolescence or early adulthood and, without intervention, these have been known in instances to develop into agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces. “People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of situations or places from which they cannot escape or find help, and as a result avoid these situations completely. One-third of people with agoraphobia become housebound.” (www.nimh.nih.gov
Panic disorder is treatable, with patients being prescribed/administered medications and psychotherapy. Panic attacks can occur anywhere and at any time. Women more than men are prone to panic disorder, according to psychcentral.com.
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack, according to www.helpguide.org
, develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within ten minutes. Most panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes, and they rarely last more than an hour.
During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life. (www.helpguide.org
Self-help survival tips
There are many things one can do to control and understand panic disorder:
1. Learn about panic. Simply knowing more about panic can go a long way towards relieving your distress. So read up on anxiety, panic disorder, and the fight-or-flight response experienced during a panic attack. You’ll learn that the sensations and feelings you have when you panic are normal and that you aren’t going crazy.
2. Avoid smoking and caffeine. Smoking and caffeine can provoke panic attacks in people who are susceptible. It is wise to avoid cigarettes, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages and medications that contain stimulants, such as diet pills and non-drowsy cold medications.
3. Learn how to control your breathing. Hyperventilation brings on many sensations (such as lightheadedness and tightness of the chest) that occur during a panic attack. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can relieve the symptoms of panic. By learning to control your breathing, you develop a coping skill that you can use to calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious.
4. Practise relaxation techniques. When practised regularly, activities such as yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation strengthen the body’s relaxation response—the opposite of the stress response involved in anxiety and panic, and they also increase feelings of joy and calmness.
People with panic disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. They can’t predict when an attack will occur, and many develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying when and where the next one will strike. So, beyond the panic attacks themselves, a key symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks.
The fear of these attacks can cause the person to avoid places and situations where an attack has occurred or where they believe an attack may occur. Treatment emphasising a three-pronged approach is most effective in helping people overcome this disorder: education; psychotherapy; and medication.