Have you ever had spells or attacks when you suddenly felt anxious, frightened, or uneasy to the extent that you began sweating, your heart began to beat rapidly, you were shaking or trembling, your stomach was upset, or you felt dizzy or unsteady, as if you would faint? If so, you may have suffered from a panic attack.
Panic attacks include having a number of physical symptoms such as the following:
- shortness of breath
- shaking hands
- feel flushed and hot in the face
- feeling like you’re having an out of body experience
- mouth gets dry
- muscle tension
- you feel like you’re going crazy, that you are losing control, or that you might die
- feeling nauseated
- tightness in the chest
Panic disorder is when individuals have these types of panic attacks out of the blue in unexpected ways, they worry about when they might have another panic attack, and alter their behavior because of having had a panic attack.
Associated with panic attacks and panic disorder is agoraphobia where sometimes individuals will avoid situations in which they fear there won’t be an easy way to escape if they have a panic attack (i.e. being on a train/metro or avoiding being in the midst of large crowds).
Treatment: Our therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat panic disorder. This entails the following:
- Psychoeducation about how panic disorder is formed and maintained in individuals
- Breathing and relaxation training
- Graded exposure to feared situations
- Cognitive restructuring or reframing unhelpful or distorted thought patterns
- Interoceptive exposure: exposure to bodily sensations that are feared or avoided