Questions people want to ask about panic disorder but don’t

This post is going to be about answering some of the questions that, I think, most people without panic disorder want to ask, but are too scared or are uncomfortable to ask. I’m no doctor, so this is going to be simplified down big time, but here goes:

What is panic disorder?

My psychologist explained panic disorder to me like this: When we were cavemen anxiety came in useful because if we came across a big woolly mammoth, it would give us the fight or flight response we needed to protect ourselves. Nowadays, there is little need for anxiety in everyday life because we’re not under threat from woolly mammoths and other predators. Nowadays, for some people anxiety can get in the way and panic disorder sufferers are some of these people. What happens with panic disorder sufferers is the body misinterprets changes in the environment (for example, for me these include changes in light or room size ) as a threat and sends out adrenaline to trigger a fight or flight response. As a rational person, you don’t leave and there is nothing to fight so you carry on with whatever you are doing, but this means your body needs to respond to the adrenaline and the fact your heart is pounding in some way and so you suffer an anxiety attack. I also experience anxiety attacks in stressful situations such as public speaking.

What does a panic/anxiety attack feel like?

I think this is a difficult one because I don’t think everyone feels the same. Personally, I used to think I was going to die because I couldn’t see past the second I was in. I feel like I don’t exist because everything in front of me doesn’t feel real. I get waves of dizziness and heat through my body and it even feels as if there is nothing behind me and I’m just going to fall backwards. It is so difficult to explain if you have never experienced it, but it feels like I’m not in my own body if that makes any sense. I sometimes feel like it is difficult to breathe and I just feel uncomfortable in myself.

How can you tell if someone is having a panic attack?

Some people expect to see the classic hyperventilation but that isn’t the case with everyone. My pulse is racing but I, personally, don’t hyperventilate, although sometimes all the colour does drain from my face so I go quite pasty. I think it is easier to identify a person’s safety behaviours. These are actions they do to try and make themselves feel comfortable (but usually don’t really help).  My safety behaviours include squinting and closing my eyes, shouting for someone in the house and fidgeting (although I am meant avoid doing these as part of my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Other ways you may spot some is having a panic might be if they are performing some relaxation techniques.

How long can panic attacks last for?

They can last between 5 and 30 minutes.

If it is an involuntary response that triggers the panic attack, why do you suffer an attack in the same place more than once?

Once you have had an anxiety attack in a place once, you might be inclined to feel anxious about returning and so you suffer and anxiety attack.

Why do you leave the room when you are having an anxiety attack?

Not only is the fight or flight response still telling you to leave, but you want to leave the situation which is causing you distress.

How can you treat panic disorder?

I think it is all about managing the condition. I use medication and psychology to do this because, unfortunately, there is no quick fix to solving this.

What triggers panic disorder?

I don’t think everybody can pin their panic disorder down to one single event. I have absolutely no clue what caused me to begin to suffer form panic disorder, but we guess it is because I left my worries about family problems build up and never talked about them.

I hope this answers some questions you might have on panic disorder and I might do a similar post some time on general anxiety…