What is Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense anxiety and includes at least four of the symptoms listed below. Importantly, not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder. Panic disorder often includes persistent concern about more panic attacks occurring in the future as well as concern about their potential consequences. It can often be conceptualized as “anxiety about the physical sensations of anxiety”. Individuals with panic disorder also make changes to their behavior to avoid the possibility of future panic attacks.
Panic Attack Symptoms
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or a racing heart
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or feeling as if you are having trouble breathing
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, unsteady, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feeling detached from reality or one’s body
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
Panic Disorder Treatment
The gold-standard treatment for panic attacks is Exposure Therapy. A technique called “Interoceptive exposure” has been found to be most effective and involves purposely inducing the physical symptoms associated with panic attacks until one is able to experience them without distress or resistance. The purpose is to teach the brain that these sensations are not actually dangerous and do not need to be avoided. Most often, individuals with panic disorder avoid certain situations or activities for fear that their panic symptoms will occur. Therefore, exposure therapy also involves progressively reintroducing oneself to those feared situations and activities. Education about panic disorder and how exposure leads to relief takes place at the start of therapy. We also teach skills that help facilitate a more accepting, nonresistant relationship with one’s symptoms.
To learn more about what our treatment looks like, click here: What to Expect In Therapy