First and foremost, let me tell you personally that panic disorder is 100% treatable. I say this from personal experience. I had panic disorder for many years and now I do not. I know how life draining and miserable it can be to have it and I can relate to exactly how you are feeling. Panic disorder is plain and simply horrible. The first step to overcoming panic disorder (as with any other anxiety disorder) begins with understanding. As I always like to mention to my clients ‘knowledge is power’ and there is no situation more applicable to this than in panic disorder.
A firm foundation of knowledge about panic disorder should include information about how one comes to get it and why they in particular were vulnerable to it, how panic disorder affects the body and the neurological conditioning behind it, and finally the sufferer should be shown clearly how they keep the body and mind conditioned in this way.
These are questions I believe need to be answered and understood completely in order to make lasting recovery. A common problem with panic disorder is that people can have future relapses, usually in response to stressful events but if adequate understanding has been given then the sufferer is more likely to see a potential hazardous situation from a different point of view. Attitude accounts for much in recovery.
A few facts about panic attacks…
Panic attacks are intense episodes of fear which are so powerful that they literally take control of your mind and make you think that you are dying, going crazy, about to faint, or lose control in some way. The symptoms of a panic attack can feel so powerful and threatening that they convince you that you’re in terrible danger. I always imagined when I experienced panic attacks that the fear I felt was probably no different to the fear felt if someone had held a gun to my head and I knew the end was here, they are that frightening!
Panic attacks are not dangerous though, they really are not. Simply put, they are just a combination of mass adrenaline secretion and an overactive mind working together to bring an electric flash of panic through the body. Adrenaline has its limits and cannot continuously flow, which is why panic attacks only generally last 10-15 minutes in intensity.
The very first panic attack one experiences always comes ‘out of the blue’ and may scare you so much that you start taking steps to protect yourself from future attacks. It’s usually the hyperventilation and ‘lack of sufficient air’ that causes so much distress. Some people avoid the places that remind them of their first attack. Safety procedures are usually put in place after panic attacks begin to take grip on the sufferer and they may only go out when they have their mobile phone, bottled water, paper bag, chewing gum and other objects which they believe will keep them safe. These safety behaviours only serve to prolong and complicate the suffering.
Over time as panic attacks become more and more frequent they present themselves in a whole host of situations and places. Common places are crowded areas, traffic jams, or simply simply standing in a queue. Other times you might have a nocturnal panic attack, which wakes you out of a deep sleep. I remember at my worst where I would often awake after holding my breath in my sleep, a common problem with panic disorder.
You might find yourself experiencing odd feelings of depersonalization from time to time as if you seem ‘outside’ of yourself. I used to get these frequently and particularly whilst I was having fun or during moments of peace. All of a sudden I would get this realisation that ‘here I am peacefully happy’, this contrast of peace and the past suffering I had endured brought with it a sinking feeling of doom. From here I naturally felt myself slipping away from reality and into a realm of darkness and panic. It is at this point where one should be particular wary of depression.
As soon as you begin to respond more positively and accepting towards the panic then the sooner you will become free of it. A good therapist will arm you with confidence and a willingness to challenge these moments! Peace always lies on the other side of panic so go on through!