Nora fell asleep watching TV one evening when, without warning, she woke up and could barely breathe. Her heart raced, and her fingers to her elbows tingled. Nora thought she might die. After a few horrible minutes, everything suddenly stopped. The symptoms had subsided, but Nora was scared and exhausted. She saw her doctor the next day, and learned that she did not have a heart attack but a panic attack.
Panic attacks can occur out of the blue and without an obvious trigger. If they happen repetitively and if they disturb people’s daily lives, then they may be a panic disorder.
Panic attacks are draining and scary, and people who have experienced one may rearrange their normal life in the hope of avoiding them. Avoidance is certainly an understandable response, but it rarely works. In the meantime, people may also lose out on work opportunities and time with loved ones. Instead, psychological interventions have been an effective treatment for many people’s panic disorder, and they allow people to live their normal, daily life.
The counselors at Thriveworks Virginia Beach often help patients find the right intervention that works for them. We may combine cognitive behavior therapy, medication, or exposure therapy to individualize treatment and meet each client’s needs.
Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Disorder
Panic attacks can take a severe toll on people’s mental and physical health. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) acknowledges that when they become disruptive and repetitive, they may be a panic disorder (DSM-5 300.01 [F41.0]). The following are signs and symptoms of a panic disorder:
- When two or more panic attacks occur in a person’s life and cause mental and physical discomfort, anxiety, and fear wherein at least four of the following symptoms appear suddenly, build for several minutes, and then abate:
- Depersonalization or detachment from oneself
- Feeling choked
- Irregular or escalated heart rate
- Shaking or convulsions
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Feeling smothered or experiencing shortness of breath
- Numbed or tingling sensations
- Chest pain and/or tightness
- Dizziness and/or faintness
- Fear of death
- Nausea and/or abdominal pain
- Perspiring excessively
- Hot flashes or chills
- Responding to a panic attack(s) with one or both of the following for a minimum of one month:
- Severe concern that more attacks will happen and/or a similar physical health problem will occur (e.g., a heart attack or stroke).
- Changing one’s person and/or professional schedule with the hopes of avoiding or mitigating the panic attacks.
- In order to be diagnosed as a panic disorder, the attacks cannot be caused by another psychiatric disorder, a drug/medication, or a physical health problem.
Panic disorder most often begins when people are young adults, in their 20s and 30s. Although rare, kids and older adults have developed panic disorders. People who have survived child abuse or trauma have a greater risk of a panic disorder occurring than any other anxiety disorder. People with a family history of panic attacks and anxiety disorders may also be at increased risk.
Panic Disorders: Interventions and Treatment
Missing family functions, time with friends, and work opportunities is not the only option for dealing with panic attacks. If you or a loved one suffers with a panic disorder, know that it may be possible to live your normal life and allay the attacks. Certain therapies have proven effective at treating panic attacks, and these can be combined and tailor to meet an individual’s needs. Such therapies may include:
- Exposure therapy: Normalizing the sensations and feeling people experience during a panic attack is one way for people to understand what is happening to them and learn how to respond to the attacks. When people are empowered with information and coping mechanisms, the attacks may lessen or cease. Exposure therapy allows people to experience the feelings of an attack but in a safe environment and with guided supervision so that they can learn these skills.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: If childhood abuse is contributing to the panic attacks, cognitive behavior therapy is one way of working through the trauma so that it no longer has power over the individual. Often, unhealthy thinking or behaviors develop in response to trauma, and cognitive behavior seeks to identify these and replace them with healthy behaviors and thinking.
- Medication: Antidepressants or benzodiazepines may increase the effectiveness of other therapies. They can calm attacks so that people can focus on building coping skills and healing past trauma instead of dealing with present panic.
Seeing a Counselor at Thriveworks Virginia Beach
The counselors at Thriveworks Virginia Beach want each of their clients to receive the help they need and live the life the want—panic free. If you are ready to see a counselor for your panic attacks, we are ready to help.
When you dial our number, you may be meeting with your counselor the following day. We work with most insurance companies, and weekend and evening appointments are available. Call today. We are ready to help you thrive.