Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

A panic attack is the sudden and overwhelming fear that something bad will happen regardless of actual danger. Some describe panic attacks as an explosion of fear and anxiety that subsides after ten or twenty minutes. For many people, panic attacks are rare or infrequent occurrence in their lives. For others, panic attacks can become a persistent facet of their lives. Whether rare or frequent, panic attacks can be seriously disruptive to an individual’s professional or social life.

What is panic disorder?

When panic attacks become a regular feature of one’s life, the term panic disorder is often used. Not only can frequent panic attacks cause individuals to have a general sense that they are no longer in control, but can even lead to intense anxiety about when the next panic attack will strike. Many who suffer from panic disorder will avoid places where past panic attacks occurred, in addition to unfamiliar places that may induce stress or anxiety.

Panic disorder can often begin during life stressful life changes such as graduation, breakup, birth of a child, or loss of a loved one. It often runs in families, which may indicate that it is influenced by genetics. Panic disorder is also more common in people who are prone to unhealthy levels of stress.

How do I know if I am experiencing panic attacks?

Panic attacks trigger a number of physiological responses, including irregular or rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, dizziness and even chest pain. Some may be overcome by a sense that reality is slipping away, or that they have become detached from themselves. Panic attacks usually do not last longer than ten to twenty minutes.

How does Union Square Practice treat panic disorder?

The first step to treating panic disorder requires a thorough evaluation of current symptoms, psychiatric history and general medical history. Since many of the symptoms of panic disorder overlap with medical conditions ( e.g. thyroid dysfunction and cardiac disease), it is essential to rule out any underlying causes or contributing factors such as substance abuse or excessive caffeine intake. Once a clear diagnosis is made, treatment can then be tailored to the needs and desires of the client. Many medication options exist to treat panic disorder. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy provides practical strategies to deal with anxiety or stress-inducing experiences, without becoming overwhelmed.