Do you have rushes of fear that make you think that you are sick, dying, or losing your mind? When these panicky feelings happen, does it feel as if your heart is going to burst out of your chest or as if you cannot get enough air? Or maybe you feel dizzy, faint, trembly, sweaty, short of breath, or just scared to death. Do the feelings sometimes come from out of the blue, when you least expect them? Are you worried about when these feelings will happen again? Do these feelings interfere with your normal daily routine or prevent you from doing things that you would normally do?
If these descriptions apply to you, then you may be suffering from panic disorder and agoraphobia. The rushes of fear are called panic attacks. Usually, panic attacks are accompanied by general anxiety about the possibility of another attack. Agoraphobia refers to anxiety about, or avoidance of, situations where panic attacks or other physical symptoms are expected to occur.
Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can be terrifying, largely because it feels 'crazy' and 'out of control.'
Panic Attack Symptoms
• shortness of breath
• heart palpitations or a racing or pounding hears
• chest pain or discomfort
• trembling or shaking
• feelings of choking
• feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
• hot or cold flashes
• nausea or abdominal distress
• feelings of unreality or detachment
• numbness or tingling
• fears of dying
• fears of going insane or losing control
Here are some examples of how panic and anxiety disorder can affect people's lives.
Cameron was a 35 year old sales manager who's first panic attack occurred at work, in front of his coworkers. He began to feel weak, nauseous, and dizzy and asked a colleague to call a doctor because he was afraid he was having a heart attack since his father had recently died of one. In addition to his personal loss, Cameron was dealing with a lot of stress at work. Several months before his first attack, there were times when he was nervous and had shaky hands, but nothing compared to the attack. He had a physical exam and his doctor told him that it was stress and anxiety. The panic attacks kept happening, often they were out of the blue and sometimes woke him out of a deep sleep. Cameron felt anxious most of the time because he worried about having another attack. He started to avoid being alone whenever possible. He also avoided certain places, like shopping malls and theaters where he feared being trapped and embarrassed if he panicked.
Lynn was a 41 year old, married woman who was unemployed because of her panic attacks. She quit her job as a paralegal several years ago because it became harder and harder to leave her house. Her attacks involved feeling strong chest pains and feelings of pressure on her chest, numbness in her left arm, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. She was terrified that she was having a heart attack, especially when these feelings woke her up from a deep sleep. Lynn lived with her extended family of Chinese descent and her grandmother convinced her that demons were descending on her and that she would die if she didn't wake up in time. Consequently, Lynn became very afraid of going to sleep, so instead, took several naps throughout the day when people were around. She only went outside, occasionally, as long as a friend or family member accompanied her. Although she had seen several doctors and had many stress tests to determine the health of her heart and nothing was detected, she remained convinced that she would have a heart attack or that she would die in her sleep.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps with methods and ways to change old thinking patterns and habits. If we are always thinking and expecting the worst, then we will continue to suffer. We train or condition our minds to think and respond differently than we have in the past. Then we actually put everything into place in everyday, real-life situations where we are bothered by panic and anxiety.