Joey was relaxed and getting ready for bed one moment when all of a sudden, he thought he might die. He was cold and shaking. Joey’s heart pounded, and his feet and hands felt numb. After a few minutes, everything stopped as quickly as it had started. Joey seemed fine, but he was exhausted. The following day, he saw his doctor and learned that he had a panic attack.
There is rarely a warning or reason that panic attacks surface, and if they happen repetitively, they may also be a panic disorder.
Panic can exhaust and debilitate. People often want to avoid attacks at all costs. They may rearrange their lives, avoiding anything that may be uncomfortable or triggering. In doing so, they also avoid advancement opportunities and time with family or friends. Others try to numb the discomfort, but alcohol or drugs often make the panic worse.
There is a better way. Psychological interventions have proven effective for treating panic attacks. Cognitive behavior therapy, medication, or exposure therapy may be combined to lessen or completely alleviate panic disorders. The therapists at Thriveworks Charlottesville often help their clients find the holistic treatment they need to live their normal life free from panic attacks.
Panic Disorder: What Is It?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) recognizes the disruption that panic attacks can cause, and gives criteria for diagnosing panic disorder (DSM-5 300.01 [F41.0]):
- When more than one panic attack strikes, causing people to experience acute discomfort, fear, and anxiety that has a minimum of four of the following symptoms:
- Excessive perspiration
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Fear of dying
- Shaking or trembling
- Irregular or escalated heart beat
- Feelings of choking
- Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
- Feeling detached from oneself
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Dizziness or faintness
- Chest pain or tightness
- Stomach pain or nausea
- Feeling as if the experience is not real
- Chills or hot flashes
- Experiencing either or both of the following in the wake of the panic attack(s) for at least one month:
- Acute and constant anxiety about more panic attacks occurring, and/or a similar health event (e.g., having a stroke or heart attack) occurring.
- Adjusting one’s normal routine in the hopes of avoiding or lessening the attack’s severity.
Before diagnosing a panic disorder, there is an important caveat. Panic attacks can be a part of other psychological disorders, and they can also be caused by certain medications or drugs. In order for a panic disorder to be diagnosed, the attacks cannot be the physiological effects of a substance or a part of another mental health disorder.
Holistic Interventions for a Panic Disorder
Holistic and effective interventions are available for panic disorders. These can be combined into an individualized treatment plan, and for many, they greatly relieve or even eliminate panic attacks. A skilled and caring counselor may be able to find the right combination of these therapies that works for you:
- Medication: Antidepressants and benzodiazepines may relieve symptoms so that people can focus upon building coping skills or resolving past trauma instead of worrying about panic attacks. When combined with other treatments, medication may improve those intervention’s chances of success.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Often, panic attacks are rooted in childhood trauma or abuse. If this is the case, cognitive behavior therapy seeks to heal the past trauma, and in doing so, panic symptoms often lessen. In response to trauma, people often develop unhealthy coping skills, and cognitive behavior therapy can replace those with healthier responses to the discomfort of panic attacks.
- Exposure therapy: When people are not afraid of panic attacks and know how to respond if they occur, the attacks often naturally lessen. Exposure therapy gives people opportunities to experience the sensations of an attack but in a safe place and with a therapist’s help. Doing so may normalize the experience and give people more control over their responses.
Treating Your Panic Disorder at Thriveworks Charlottesville
Are you or is someone you love living in fear of panic attacks? Is it time to live your normal life with without the panic disorder? If you are ready for treatment, Thriveworks Charlottesville has appointments available for panic disorders. Our therapists utilize cognitive behavior therapy, medications, and/or exposure therapy. We work with our clients to formulate individualized, holistic treatment plans.
If you call our office, you may be able to see a therapist the following day. Our counselors have weekend and evening appointments available, and we work with most insurance companies. We do not keep a waitlist, so you will never be put on one.
If it is time to reclaim your normal routine from a panic disorder, Thriveworks Charlottesville is here to help. Call today.