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Do I have panic disorder?

Panic is a natural response to a stressful situation, and it’s a feeling we all experience sometimes. However, just as there is a difference between feeling anxious and having a diagnosis of anxiety, there is a difference between panicking and suffering from panic attacks, or panic disorder.

Let’s look at some familiar scenarios that make us feel stressed. Maybe we think we’ve lost our car keys, or we arrive on the platform just in time to see our train heading off. In that moment, we don’t know what to do, and so we start to panic.

Then, we find the keys in a different jacket pocket to usual, or realise that there’s another train in ten minutes. Panic over, as they say.

But imagine that this intense, panicky feeling happens with no warning or a tangible trigger. This isn’t simply panicking: this is a panic attack.

Without a specific cause, it’s also a lot harder to come out of this panicky feeling, and this can also lead to feelings of anxiety that another attack could happen at any moment.

Frequent panic attacks can be a sign of panic disorder, which is a form of anxiety. We’ll take a closer look at panic attacks and panic disorder, and how they can be treated.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

Panic attacks have sudden and intense physical symptoms. The typical attack lasts between five and 20 minutes, although they can go on for longer than this. They certainly feel longer.

People having panic attacks often experience some of the following sensations:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shakiness, or wobbly legs
  • Change in temperature (feeling suddenly hot or cold)
  • Starting to sweat
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Feeling somehow disconnected from your own body
  • Struggling to breathe, sometimes described as a choking sensation

These sudden sensations often make the individual worry that they’re going to pass out, have a heart attack, or even die.

Panic attacks can be really frightening while you’re experiencing one, and you can be left feeling very shaken. However, please remember that a panic attack won’t cause you any physical harm.

But, if you’re suddenly getting these attacks, it’s worth having them checked out by your GP just in case they’re symptoms of another condition (the NHS website gives the example that a racing heart beat could also mean you have low blood pressure).

Do panic attacks mean I have panic disorder?

What’s the difference between a panic attack and panic disorder? Simply, it’s the frequency of the panic attacks. If you are experiencing recurring attacks, with no apparent cause, then it’s likely your doctor will diagnose panic disorder.

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety. Like other anxiety disorders, panic is a natural fear response that’s somehow become exaggerated, and one that our minds have lost the ability to control.

Sometimes, a diagnosis of panic disorder runs alongside another phobia (your panic attacks can be triggered by claustrophobia, for example).

A real sign of panic disorder can be how debilitating the fear of an attack becomes. People who experience regular panic attacks begin to constantly fear the next attack, which of course, leads to a mentally unhealthy cycle of intense anxiety.

However, there are plenty of ways to manage and treat panic disorder. The first step is recognising that these panicky feelings are becoming out of control.

What are the treatments for panic disorder?

Like other anxiety disorders, panic disorder is often treated with talking therapies, prescription medication, or a blend of both. Therapies include solution focused therapy (which is what I offer at Great Minds Clinic) and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).

There are also support groups that can help with everyday management of panic attacks, and there are lots of self-help techniques you can try.

Medication could be a type of anti-depressant called an SSRI, or an anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your GP. These can take a few weeks to start working, so it’s good to combine them with other techniques.

Self-help for panic attacks can include breathing and grounding techniques, exercise and good self-care. No Panic provides online support, including members-only group chats and events.

How can solution focused hypnotherapy help me manage panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a natural response to fear or stress that have become out of control. Solution focused hypnotherapy helps your brain make sense of these sensations again.

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