Panic can strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning, bringing with it overwhelming feelings of terror and intense anxiety. Panic disorder is characterized by periods of excessive worry punctuated by occasional panic attacks. These aanic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep, and can be brought on with or without an external trigger.
A panic attack is defined as experiencing at least four of the following symptoms intensely for an acute period of time, about 10 minutes on average:
- Racing or pounding heart rate.
- Feeling smothered or inability to breathe.
- Trembling or uncontrollable shaking.
- Overwhelming desire to escape or flee.
- Excessive sweating.
- Chest pains.
- Feeling that you are about to die or go “crazy.”
- Tingling in the extremities.
A person having a panic attack may feel as if they’re having a heart attack. Often times they end up in the emergency room because they believe that they are dying. After their first experience of a panic attack, many people fall into a pattern of avoidance in an attempt to steer clear of any triggers that they associate with having a panic attack. They also may encounter feelings of depression or turn to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to self-medicate. In some cases a person with panic disorder may so restrict his or her life in an attempt to avoid panic attacks that they can no longer enjoy a normal daily routine of grocery shopping, driving, working, or engaging in social activities.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 6 million Americans experience panic disorder. If left untreated, panic disorder can worsen to the point that an individual cannot leave their house, a condition known as agoraphobia. There is help available, though. In fact, panic disorder is one of the most treatable anxiety-related disorders. Psychotherapy, prescription medication, and natural alternatives are some of the options open to those suffering with panic attacks and panic disorder.