Molly was sleeping deeply one moment when she was suddenly awake and having a panic attack. She doubled over with stomach pain, and her chest constricted. The room was spinning. Molly piled on the blankets but still felt cold. Molly almost felt as if she was out of her body, looking down on herself. These awful symptoms lasted for several minutes and then stopped as suddenly as they started. Even though the symptoms subsided, Molly felt exhausted and shaken. This was Molly’s second panic attack this month.
Attacks are debilitating and exhausting, and people reasonably want to avoid them. Many people change their routines in the hopes of avoiding anything that may trigger an attack. But rearranging daily life often means missing out on work opportunities, time with family, and connection to friends. Others try to soften the difficult feelings through self-medication. But drugs and alcohol make the attacks worse.
People who turn to psychological intervention, in contrast, are often able to maintain their normal routine while the discomfort they feel from the attacks subside. Over time, many people experience complete relief from panic attacks as these treatments bring healing and freedom.
The therapists and psychologists at Thriveworks Philadelphia love seeing their clients receive the holistic interventions they need for panic disorders. We regularly tailor treatment plans for clients that may include a combination of cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy, and/or medication to meet their particular symptoms and needs.
What Is a Panic Disorder?
Without warnings and without triggers, panic attacks can strike. If they occur more than once and if they obstruct normal, daily life, then they may be a panic disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for diagnosing a panic disorder (DSM-5 300.01 [F41.0]):
- When people experience more than one panic attack (at least two) that involves acute fear, anxiety, and discomfort that build for several minutes and then wane. For a panic disorder diagnosis to be made, the panic attacks cannot be the result of another medical condition, a different psychiatric disorder, or the physiological effects of a drug.
- In particular, a minimum of four of the following symptoms must be present during the panic attack:
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feeling depersonalized or detached from oneself
- Shaking or trembling
- Feeling smothered or experiencing shortness of breath
- A choking feeling
- Chest pain or tightness
- Palpitations or escalated heart rate
- Fear of dying
- Dizziness or faintness
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Hot flashes or chills
- Sweating excessively
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- After one of the attacks, experiencing either or both of the following responses for at least one month’s time:
- Relentless worry about having more panic attacks and/or that other, similar health problems will occur (e.g., stroke or heart attack).
- Switching one’s personal or professional schedule in the hope of avoiding another panic attack.
Panic Disorders: Effective Interventions
There are more effective treatments for panic disorders than self-medication or missing out on life. Panic attacks and thus panic disorders are often soothed by psychological interventions that also allow people to maintain their normal, daily routine. Such interventions may include:
- Exposure therapy: This intervention helps normalize the feelings and sensations of a panic attack, and then it empowers people with coping skills to handle them. Within a safe space and with a therapist’s guidance, people are exposed to a panic attack. As people understand what is happening to them during an attack and as they learn how to respond, the attacks often become less frequent and/or severe.
- Medication: This intervention is almost always combined with other therapies, and it often increases their effectiveness. Antidepressants or benzodiazepines may relieve attacks so that people can focus upon healing instead of dealing with panic.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This intervention addresses and seeks to heal any root causes of the panic attacks. It may help people resolve through past trauma or abuse as well as any negative thought patterns that have resulted from those experiences.
Therapists and Psychologists for Panic Attacks at Thriveworks Philadelphia
As you read through the diagnostics for panic disorders, did you recognize any symptoms in your own life? Have you experienced one or more panic attacks? Are you ready to try an intervention? Thriveworks Philadelphia is ready to meet with you and help form an individualized treatment plan.
If you call our office to set up therapy for a panic disorder, it might be helpful to know that…
- We accept many insurance plans.
- Evening and weekend appointments are available.
- First-time clients often see their therapist with 24 hours of their call.
- A person—not a voicemail—answers our phones. You can also set up an appointment online.
If you have changed your routine to avoid panic attacks, it may be time to reclaim your life. Call Thriveworks today.