While settling into bed one evening, Eric was fine one minute when the next minute, he could barely breathe. His heart raced, and his fingers started to tingle. Eric doubled over in pain. Everything felt surreal to him, as if he were outside of his body looking down on himself. Eric thought he was having a heart attack, and his wife called 911. Before the paramedics arrived, the pain and sensations stopped as quickly and mysteriously as they had surfaced. After examining him, the paramedics could see Eric did not have a heart attack—he had a panic attack.
Panic attacks can exhaust and devastate without apparent reason and without warning. If you have had one, you know how disruptive they are. If they happen repetitively or if they interrupt people’s daily lives, then they may also be a serious psychiatric disorder: panic disorder.
People, understandably, try many different strategies to overcome the attacks. Many change their daily life, trying to avoid anything that could trigger an attack. In the process, they avoid opportunities, joy, and connection. Other hope that alcohol or drugs with numb the uncomfortable feelings. These, however, almost always increase the prevalence and intensity of the panic.
Panic attacks are often responsive to psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, ad exposure therapy. Many experience fewer attacks or their attacks stop with these interventions.
If you are fighting panic attacks, you are not alone. Thriveworks Reston offers these therapies, and our skilled counselors and psychologists are committed to formulating treatment plans that align with each individual’s needs.
Identifying Panic Disorder
A panic disorder usually appears when people are young adults—in their 20s and 30s. Although they are rare, older adults and even children have experienced panic attacks and a panic disorder. People with a family history of anxiety or panic attacks are at increased risk for a panic disorder, as are people who have lived through childhood abuse and/or trauma.
The following outlines diagnostics for panic disorder (DSM-5 300.01 [F41.0]) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):
- When people experience more than one panic attack that involves intense physical and emotional discomfort, that escalates for several minutes and then subsides, and that involves a minimum of four of these symptoms:
- Dizziness or faintness
- Chest pain or tightness
- Feeling detached or depersonalized from oneself
- Shaking or trembling
- Palpitations or escalated heart beat
- Fear of dying
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Excessive perspiration
- Feelings of choking
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- Chills or hot flashes
- The panic attacks cannot be linked to another psychiatric disorder, medical condition, or drug/medication use.
- For a minimum of one month following an attack(s), encountering one or both of the following experiences:
- Chronic worry that more panic attacks and/or a similar, negative health consequence (e.g., a stroke or heart attack) may occur.
- Switching one’s daily routine in the hope that another panic attack can be avoided.
Psychological Interventions for Panic Disorder
While changing routines is an understandable response to having a panic attack, what if there were a better way? Before missing out on friends, family, and work, consider counseling. Psychological interventions have helped many people with their panic disorder. Some of the interventions that are available include:
- Exposure therapy: It might seem counterintuitive, but feeling the sensations of a panic attack can help people normalize the panic and learn empowered responses. Of course, exposure therapy should only be attempted within a safe environment and with certified supervision. As people learn how to handle the attack, their fear may lessen and the attacks may lessen as well.
- Medication: Benzodiazepines or antidepressants may lessen the severity or frequency of panic attacks so that people can more easily learn coping mechanisms or address root causes. Medication is particularly effective with incorporated into other treatments.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This intervention focuses upon addressing any root causes of the panic attacks. If a person has experience abuse or trauma, these experiences may be contributing to the feelings of panic. A skilled therapist can help people work through any negative past experiences. Therapists can also help people replace any negative thinking patterns that have resulted with positive coping skills.
Thriveworks Reston: Therapy for Panic Attacks
Thriveworks Reston is committed to finding the right treatment for each client. Our therapists are caring, experienced individuals who love seeing their clients live their normal lives, free of panic attacks.
If you want to start therapy for a panic disorder, Thriveworks Reston may be able to help. At our office, new clients often see their therapist the day after their first call. We work with many insurance providers and accept many insurance plans. Weekend and evening appointments are available, and there is no waitlist.
Panic disorders are hard; scheduling therapy should not be. Call Thriveworks Reston, VA today.