The terms “anxiety” and “panic” may be used interchangeably in conversation, but mental health professionals use these phrases to describe unique processes. Someone with anxiety may or may not experience panic attacks, and panic attacks can be experienced along with a number of conditions including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance use disorder. Panic attacks are experienced as an episode of intense fear or discomfort. Unlike more generalized experiences of anxiety which tend to be less intense and longer-lasting, panic attacks peak within minutes.
Panic attacks can look different from person to person. To be considered a panic attack, the episode of intense fear or discomfort must involve at least four of the symptoms below:
- Racing or pounding heart
- Difficulty breathing
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks are so unpleasant that sometimes those who have experienced them live in fear of another attack or avoid certain situations in an effort to minimize the chances of experiencing panic symptoms. When this fear or avoidance persists for more than a month following an attack, the person may be experiencing Panic Disorder.
Panic Disorder is sometimes accompanied by Agoraphobia or the fear of being in a situation where escape would be difficult or help might not be available in the event of having panic-like symptoms. For example, situations or settings that may be avoided due to Agoraphobia include:
- Long lines and crowds
- Public transit
- Parking lots
- Being outside of the home alone
Panic Disorder (PD) and Agoraphobia are serious conditions that can take a major toll on the sufferer, both mentally and physically. Evidence shows that psychotherapy can be an effective way to treat these conditions. Treatment often involves learning that panic is not dangerous and learning coping skills for tolerating sensations of fear.
If you are suffering from panic symptoms, know that help is available from the safety of your own home. GLPG makes it easy to get started with online therapy. If you’d prefer to start online therapy in the wake of the pandemic but anticipate that you’d prefer to switch to in-office therapy at some point, you have the option of choosing a GLPG therapist located in your community.