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When the Earth Spins Out Of Control: Experiencing Panic Disorder

September 23, 2016 - - 0 Comments

Experiencing Panic DisorderFor some people, it feels like a terrorist attack on their body.  Gunshots ring in their mind; they feel dizzy, sweaty, out of control.  Others describe it as slipping through ice; a clammy chill runs through their veins, their heart pounds violently; their vision becomes narrow, tunnel-like.  Always, always, always, they want to escape, yet feel glued to the ground, unable to move, unable to function.  It is debilitating.  It is a panic attack.

Approximately six million adults in the United States suffer from panic disorder every year, making it the most common mental health illness in the country.  Also known as anxiety disorder, it affects 40 million adults in the United States over the course of a lifetime, which equates to roughly 18 percent of the population.  Women are 60 percent more likely to develop this condition that often begins showing symptoms in early adolescence.  The most common age of onset is 11.  Many people with anxiety disorder have co-existing conditions, particularly depression.  Nearly one-half of the people who are diagnosed with depression receive a dual diagnosis of anxiety disorder.  

Other symptoms of a panic attack include a crippling fear of dying, chest pain, nausea or upset stomach, a fear of going crazy or losing control, and chills or hot flashes.  Some people contend with shaking or trembling, a sense of choking, and tingling, particularly in the hands or feet.  Occasionally, a sense of depersonalization takes place – a feeling of being detached from one’s own body; or derealization, where reality ceases to exist temporarily.  While the typical episode peaks after 10 minutes, residual effects can last hours.

While many people without an anxiety disorder experience moments of panic, such episodes are rare and can usually be attributed to a specific cause.  For instance, before giving a speech or after being fired, it isn’t uncommon to shuffle through all the symptoms of a panic attack.  It’s unlikely that anyone who feels terrified isn’t going to have a racing heart, sweaty palms, and lightheadedness.  However, people with an actual disorder tend to have recurring episodes and continue to worry about having an attack between such episodes.

When having a panic attack, a person’s body goes through all of the common fight-or-flight responses.  The brain picks up on some perceived threat, possibly something that the person isn’t even aware exists, such as a scary thought.  The thalamus carries that information to the amygdala, which in turn senses danger and causes arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.  The outcome is that fight-or-flight reflex.  Adrenaline becomes secreted into the brain and body, causing all of the symptoms of a panic attack.  Though these are normal responses that a person would experience if, say, threatened by a bear, to the person having a panic attack, they seem unfounded.  Consequently, a person’s brain tries to make sense of the situation, concluding that death must be imminent, or a heart attack or an allergic reaction, or a whole host of other problems.  This worry then creates more problems, such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, and chest pain.

People who experience panic disorder are six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric conditions than those who do not have the condition, and three to five times more likely to visit a doctor.  Fortunately, the prognosis after panic disorder treatment is high.  Only 42.2 percent of people experiencing panic disorder actually receive treatment.  Of these, 33.8 percent are receiving the bare minimum of care.

Panic disorder treatment often consists of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.  Occasionally, treatment for panic disorder includes lifestyle changes that address the underlying causes of the panic disorder.  Things such as deep breathing relaxation exercises, an avoidance of caffeine and smoking, yoga, meditation and progressive relaxation techniques can be helpful as well.


His House Rehab offers industry leading Panic Disorder Treatment Programs. We were founded in 1994 and we base our Drug and Alcohol Treatment programs on five key principles: commitment, honesty, integrity, respect, and service. These five principles guide us in all that we do and all the care we provide. Contact us today to see how we can help you or your loved one at (888) 681-4594.

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