For many, experiencing occasional feelings of anxiety is common and at healthy levels can actually inspire productivity. From there, anxiety can progress in two primary ways. It can extend over stretches of time or it can intensify in shorter episodes. These episodes, also known as panic attacks, are characterized by bouts of extreme anxiety in response to prompting stimuli or other stressful situations. This type of acute anxiety can quickly envelope an individual and create the perception that his or her world is crashing down. When these bursts of incapacitation and loss of control strike more erratically, persistent concern about future attacks can begin to change a person’s behavior in negative ways.
One of the reasons why people with panic disorder may start to worry about their attacks is that these occurrences can happen unexpectedly. In other words, there may not be an obvious cue that will hint an upcoming episode in comparison to a phobia or PTSD, where the triggering object or situation is clearly defined. While experiencing this condition, attacks can strike at any moment, which makes a constant state of anxiousness and unease much more prevalent in between each event. This is not to say that expected panic attacks do not exist, because a person may still fall victim to a rush of uncontrollable feelings during more commonly stressful situations as well. In fact, approximately half of various first-world populations who suffer from this disorder have both expected and unexpected episodes. The determination of whether one’s episodes are expected or unexpected is made through a rigorous and detailed set of interview questions that analyze the sequence of events that result in an attack. This must be carefully administered by a clinical professional.
In addition to how these attacks happen, the rate of recurrence and the level of severity also define the condition. When anxiety has developed into a more serious panic disorder, intermittent attacks may take place anywhere between a few per year to a few per day, along with maladaptive worry in between each episode. Although a large spectrum exists, there is actually a lot of common ground between those afflicted with frequent and infrequent attacks. The severity of the disorder is classified into either full-symptom or limited-symptom, depending if a person experiences more or less than four of the diagnostic criteria for an attack. These features include, but are not limited to:
- A wide range of physical symptoms, from sweating and shaking to dizziness and other major discomfort
- Derealization, or feeling that one’s experience and surroundings are not real
- Depersonalization, or feeling removed from one’s sense of self
- A general fear of losing control of one’s mind
- An intense fear of dying
Beyond the existence of panic attacks, this disorder involves an overlaid sense of worry as well. The reasons for this heightened concern may be fueled by a belief that the attacks signal the presence of a serious medical or mental illness or by social embarrassment and a fear of being judged in a negative light. An individual may even spend a lot of time worrying about when the next attack will be, especially if they occur unexpectedly.
The worry may extend into upcoming episodes and evolve into a constant state of anxiety. A particular characteristic is the exaggeration of any physical symptoms or side-effects from medications, even if they are unrelated to the disorder. Those with the condition often report concern over any life stressors as well and may impose strict rules upon themselves aimed at controlling their emotional state. However, many of these restrictions, such as extreme dieting, may actually hinder one’s health instead. Furthermore, the individual may turn to drugs or other substances to manage feelings of panic.
Unfortunately, these different types of worrisome thoughts can build up one’s anxiety and trigger an attack, creating a vicious cycle of snowballing symptoms. Overall, this can result in the person with the disorder changing his or her normal conduct in order to minimize or prevent episodes of panic. These behavioral shifts can encompass many different examples. A person with panic disorder may abstain from any physically exhausting activities and withdraw from social obligations. Sometimes, a fear of leaving one’s home may develop and become a full-blown diagnosis of agoraphobia. However, this kind of avoidance behavior may not be effective in the case of unexpected panic attacks, as attacks can occur during sleep as well. Although a majority of symptoms happen during the day, this nocturnal panic occurs at least once in approximately one-quarter to one-third of individuals with the disorder.
Sovereign Mental Health is dedicated to diminishing an individual’s panic attacks and identifying why they occur. Not only will experienced clinicians and mental health professionals treat the intense episodes at-hand, they will employ innovative and detailed screenings to uncover any underlying conditions that could be contributing to one’s panic disorder. After contacting our 24/7 admissions helpline with a will to recover, you won’t have to worry about your condition anymore. Live chat with a consultant online or call (866) 954-0529 for more information and support.