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  • Writer's pictureDan Wethington MS, LPC

Panic Disorder

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Read this to learn about Panic disorder and treatment for mental health at Arise Counseling Services in York, PA.

Panic disorder starts with panic attacks. A panic attack is sudden and terrifying experience of physical reactions when there is no actual apparent harm present. People report that panic attacks sometimes make them feel as though they are dying, unable to breathe, having a heart attack, etc. Below is a list of symptoms that a person might experience when they have a panic attack.

Panic Attack Symptoms

  • Fear of death, loss of control, sense of impending doom or danger.

  • Rapid heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain.

  • Sweating, trembling, chills, shaking, hot flashes, nausea, stomach cramps.

  • Shortness of breath, tightness in throat, difficulty breathing, feeling like "asthma attack".

  • Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, feeling like you are going to faint.

  • Feeling detached or as though you are not in touch with reality.

Panic attacks and panic disorder information and treatment at Arise Counseling Services in York PA.

Panic attacks can vary a lot in severity and duration, but for the most part they usually peak within a few minutes and then slowly subside over a period of 10-20 minutes, but can sometimes last up to an hour. Panic attacks are relatively common, and some people have only one or two in their entire lifetime, while others have them more frequently. One of the most troubling things about panic attacks is that they can occur at almost any time and sometimes a person is not really able to identify what triggered their panic attack and it seemingly has come at random. If a person is able to identify the trigger, this is referred to as an expected panic attack, but if they are not, this is an unexpected panic attack.

Just having a panic attack by itself is not classified as a disorder, but when a person begins to develop fear and anxiety about having another panic attack, this is when they are developing panic disorder. Panic disorder is a persistent fear of having a panic attack that involves changing behavior in order to avoid the possibility of experiencing another panic attack. For example, if a person had a panic attack when they were a passenger in a car, they might avoid riding in a car or they might avoid being in the setting where the panic attack occurred such as when crossing a bridge (this seems to be very common). Agoraphobia is the clinical term that is used when a person begins to avoid situations on a consistent basis. Here is a post that I have written for more information about agoraphobia.

Prevalence of Panic Disorder

According to the DSM 5, 11.2% of adults have experienced a panic attack over the past year and females are more likely than males to experience panic attacks. Children can have panic attacks, but they are rare until around the age of puberty when panic attacks become more common. Panic disorder is less common with 2-3% of the population of adults and adolescents having clinically significant symptoms of panic disorder over the past year. The prevalence for people over the age of 65 and under the age of 14 is very low and it seems to be a disorder that mostly impacts people who are adolescents and adults.

Causes of Panic Disorder

Panic attacks and panic disorder seem to be similar to a lot of other mental health disorders in that they seem to be caused by both biological and environmental factors. It is clear that there is a genetic component and an environmental component to panic disorder and individuals with parents who have anxiety disorders or struggled with panic themselves are more likely to experience panic attacks throughout the course of their lives. There is also strong evidence that trauma in childhood and disruptions to attachment relationships often make it more likely that a person will be vulnerable to panic attacks. A person's temperament is also a predictive factor in that people who are more neurotic and anxiety sensitive are have a greater chance of developing this disorder. Life changes can also cause panic disorder, things such as interpersonal struggles, financial stress, loss of a loved one, or negative experiences with substance use.

Panic Disorder Treatment

As stated above, panic disorder can be caused by genetic factors, past traumatic experiences or experiences of loss, or social factors. It is important for any individual who is experiencing panic attacks to check in with their medical doctor to determine if there are any physical health problems that may be contributing to the problem such as changes in hormones or an underlying illness. At Arise Counseling Services, I provide treatment for the other factors described above. I help people to explore the underlying causes of their panic attacks such as unhelpful patterns of thinking, trauma, or other problems with life. There are many different ways that I can help once these causes are identified, and I will list some of them below.

Treating Panic Disorder

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): We will work together to analyze your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to examine how these impact one another and cause your symptoms to be worse. Then we will work to change how you think about issues in your life and what you believe about yourself and the world.

  • Treating trauma: When you feel safe and comfortable, we will examine any traumatic experiences that you have had related to loss of attachment relationships or changes to how you view yourself so that you can stop having the effects of trauma intrude upon your daily life.

  • Exposure: First, you will learn and practice coping skills and grounding techniques so that you develop some ability to control your body's ability to regulate itself when it is confronted with anxiety provoking situations. Then, we will move at a pace that you select and confront some of the situations that make you feel anxious/panic in a safe way so that you can learn that you are capable of facing these fears.

  • Narrative therapy: I encourage clients to examine their personal characteristics and life journey and to rewrite their story so that they can change the way that they look at themselves and the trajectory of their lives.

For more information

If you would like to learn more about any of the treatments above, please contact me and I would be happy to help. If you would like some professional help dealing with your mental health concerns, feel free to schedule an appointment with me today or reach out to discuss your options. You should also subscribe to my blog and continue to follow because I intend to write more specific posts about the treatments that I use in the future.

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