Panic Disorder is diagnosed when a person an has an unexpected panic attack followed by at least one month of persistent concern about having another one.
A panic attack is different from a state of high anxiety. A panic attack is defined as a distinct period of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within ten minutes, in which four or more of the following symptoms develop abruptly:
- Rapid heart rate, pounding heart or palpitations
- Sensations of shortness of breath, or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality (derealization)
- Feeling as if detached from one’s self (depersonalization)
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Chills or hot flashes
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
During a panic attack, a person may experience:
People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Episodes can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.
As a result of the scary intense bodily sensations those new to the experience frequently believe they have some kind of medical problem. They usually go to their doctor or the emergency room where, after evaluation, they’re told, “It’s just anxiety.” This can be reassuring for some; for others, since the experience was so intense and frightening, it feels like an overly casual dismissal. These individuals become very preoccupied with the possibility of a recurrence.
I can teach you how to manage panic attacks in a few sessions. You’ll learn what they are and what they aren’t, what to do and what not to do. We’ll also need to address your anticipatory anxiety, that is, your worry about having a panic attack. If a great deal of avoidance has set in (called Agoraphobia) further sessions will be needed, but this too is highly treatable.