What is Panic Disorder?
When a person is experiencing recurrent panic attacks, they are sometimes said to be suffering from “panic disorder”. Panic attacks themselves are common and many sufferers will, in fact, go on to suffer recurring attacks.
Panic attacks can start for many reasons but stress is one of the most common triggers. Other triggers could include periods of intense work, bereavement, an accident or following surgery. Sometimes people feel that there was no apparent reason at all and even subsequent panic attacks appear to be unpredictable and random.
People who have never had a panic attack assume that that it is just a very strong feeling of anxiety, but actually a panic attack is far more frightening and overwhelming than that.
Such is the unpleasantness of a panic attack, it is not surprising that we worry that we will get another one – it can feel that we are no longer in control of our own bodies and feelings. Sometimes people start to worry that the attacks may be a symptom of an undiagnosed and possibly serious medical problem, perhaps related to the heart. They may undergo a whole series of medical tests due to these worries and, despite bring given the all-clear, still have fears of being unwell. They may also start to make significant changes in their day to day behaviour which are related to their fears around panic attacks.
Having said that, a period of intense stress may bring about panic attacks and once this period has passed, the person may never again experience an attack. Other people may find that any period of stress in their life can make the possibility of panic attacks more likely.
Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
It used to be said that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces but in fact it is more a fear of places where escape is perceived as difficult or embarrassing and where they fear they may experience a panic attack. So fears may be about being in a crowd, in a busy supermarket, in a restaurant, on public transport or in a lift. At its most serious, these crippling fears can make holding down a job almost impossible and of course completely reduces a person’s quality of life as their life becomes more and more restricted.
Recovery from Panic Disorder
It is important to understand that recovery from panic disorder, although it will require patience and effort on your part, is entirely possible. Do NOT feel embarrassed by it – it is not due to some weakness or failure on your part, nor is it a sign of a more serious mental illness. For more information on reducing stress, click here and for more information on a 4 step emergency drill for stopping a panic attack in its tracks, click here.
Life style changes
The following steps are about more general lifestyle changes you might find beneficial:
Have a health check
There are some medical conditions which can cause symptoms related to those you might experience during a panic attack so if you have any worries about your physical health, do het yourself checked out, just in case. This step is very important as if you are still worried that there is something physically wrong, you won’t be in the right frame of mind to really work on your panic attack elimination strategy! Once you have a clean bill of health, you MUST believe that panic attacks are not going to kill you and the symptoms are just temporary and will, in time and with some effort, recede and go away.
Take a close look at your lifestyle
Many people find that something as simple as cutting down intake of coffee and tea and highly caffeinated soft drinks can ease the symptoms. You might seriously consider how much alcohol you are drinking and see if the frequency of attacks is in any way related to how much you have drink the evening before. Evidence is emerging that there are strong links between alcohol intake and drug intake (such as marijuana or ecstasy) and panic attacks. Are you bored, stressed or unhappy in your job? Or unhappy in your relationship? Are there any changes that you could make that would make your life easier and more fulfilling?
Take up exercise on a regular basis
Walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift or do something that you really love that gets you moving such as dancing, yoga or going out walking with a friend on a regular basis. There is a great deal of evidence which shows that regular exercise, a minimum-of 20 minutes, 3 times a week, can reduce states of high arousal.
There are simple factors which pre-dispose sufferers to panic attacks. Being hungry or tired can often be a factor so simply eating regularly, not skipping meals or trying out faddy diets and getting plenty of sleep are very important.
Keep a diary
People who have thought that their panic attacks were random and spontaneous, often find that keeping a diary recording when the attacks occur and what was happening around the time, can show up a clear pattern.
Keep track of your patterns of breathing
Do you tend to hold your breath at times when you’re feeling stressed? Do you tend to breath rather rapidly from the top of your chest? If so you might notice the tell-tale signs of the presence of pins and needles, yawning and sighing, feeling tired or having muscle cramps. If so, take some slow breaths or go out for some fresh air.
Need some more advice and support?
If you are suffering from panic disorder and would like to explore some of the issues raised in this article , call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!