Panic Disorder and
Anxiety or Panic Attacks



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Topics covered on this page:
1. What is Panic Disorder?
2. How it affects your life
3. What makes a panic attack happen?
4. How one attack becomes a problems and causes a disorder
5. Five steps to the development of panic attacks
6. How to overcome anxiety attacks permanently


1. What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is the diagnostic name given to the frequent occurrence of panic or anxiety attacks, which are two names for the same thing.

These attacks appear to occur for no valid reason in that there is nothing obvious around that would normally provoke such fear.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Symptoms of an attack vary from person to person. Some sufferers experience chest pain and are terrified they are having a heart attack. Others feel unable to breathe. Another group experience dizziness and fear they will pass out. Some people feel nauseous while others feel the need to go to the toilet.

Those with chest pain or inability to breathe are afraid they're dying. Those who feel faint, nauseous, or needing the toilet are afraid of making a public spectacle of themselves.

What makes a panic attack worse is the fact that, once the person notices the symptom, they start to monitor it closely, trying to stop it getting worse. 


2. How Panic Disorder Affects Your Life

Most people I have treated for panic disrder have told me that their friends, relatives and even sometimes their own doctors, as well as they themselves, have been unable to understand why their attacks happen.

This fact alone makes sufferers even more nervous because they then live in constant fear of one happening suddenly, unexpectedly, and to great embarrassment.

Naturally, if you believe that one of these debilitating and unpleasant sensations can start without warning anywhere and at any time, you are bound to experience anxiety (raised negative arousal) at any time the possibility of a panic enters your head.

Most people diagnosed with agoraphobia are not afraid of open spaces (as the word 'agoraphobia' suggests.) They are merely afraid of going out in case they embarrass themselves by having a panic attack in public.

I experienced panic attacks myself from the age of 10. I always considered myself fortunate because right from the start I knew that my panic attacks were caused by what I was thinking about.

In my own case I suppose I was lucky in this respect because I always knew that it was what I had been thinking about/imagining that had brought on even the first one I had when I was 10 years old. Nevertheless, that knowledge alone couldn't prevent my having them for the next 25 years or so until I finally managed to lose the habit.

Although I didn't know in the early years how to stop thinking those things or how to stop the panicky feelings, I did at least know I'd be able to if I found out how.

"Panic Attacks"
A practical guide to recognising and overcoming feelings of panic.

3. What makes a panic attack happen?

The reason why panic attacks happen is often not even understood by sufferers themselves. This makes them scary.

But an anxiety attack always has a trigger. Understanding what that is is part of the solution.

Panic attacks are definitely not random. There is ALWAYS a trigger - you may just not be aware of it.

Knowing the trigger in itself won't make them go away, but at least it lets the sufferer relax when those trigger situations aren't present.

The triggers are the result of having trained the survival instinct (without meaning to) that there is danger when there is none. The survival instinct then causes normal physical things to happen which are misinterpreted by the sufferer as the start of an anxiety attack.

The sufferer then focuses on this symptom and tries to stop it, this creating more anxiety and so the attack spirals.

A panic attack is not a pleasant experience. Once someone has experienced a panic attack, they are determined to avoid another. Ironically, it's that very same determination to prevent another that actually helps to bring it on!

It is this same struggle to try and stop it that actually makes it worse.


4. How one attack becomes a problem and causes panic disorder

Many sufferers are unaware of the link to their thoughts and so believe that these attacks come on totally unpredictably.

The very first panic attack symptoms a sufferer experiences may happen for any reason. They may feel faint when waiting in a queue at the supermarket checkout, they may feel nauseous in a crowded pub, they may become breathless doing some physical activity and then over-breathe and feel dizzy. 

If they try and ignore their tendency to panic or they are forced to go out for some reason, it is highly likely that their anxiety will cause further panic attacks to occur.

These may be in different situations or under different circumstances from the original one. In this way more possible places to panic are learnt by the survival instinct and so the Panic Disorder generalises to more situations.

Regardless of the actual symptom which is feared, all anxiety attacks are self reinforcing and spiral in nature. The diagram on the page describing the symptom of feeling faint shows this.

An example of someone whose attacks make them feel they might faint.

person experiencing the start of a panic attack.

This first attack may have happened for a physical reason. Nevertheless, it was not pleasant so the survival instinct tries to link the feeling with the place it happened so that it can warn you in good time to be careful if you find yourself in that situation again

The sufferer may also feel embarrassed about it. The symptom of feeling as if they were going to faint was bad enough but the fact that they made an exhibition of themselves in front of others made it even worse.

Because brains link things, especially negative things, once you've had a panic attack, your brain has made a link between those symptoms and your fear or embarrassment.

So then, whenever it notices even a hint of that symptom, it will start warning you about the possibility of danger

Although the first panic attack is triggered by events which provoke anxiety in their own right, subsequent panic attacks are based totally around the fear of having another panic attack.

diagrammatic representation of the thoughts of a panic attack sufferer.

Panic attacks are fuelled solely by the fear of having one.
If you are brave enough to focus your mind elsewhere when you get the trigger thought, "What if I panic?" then it will just wither away
The key is being brave enough NOT to think about it or monitor the symptoms

How panic disorder at the supermarket checkout might develop

Woman having a panic attack at supermarket checkout

5. Five steps to the development of panic disorder

1. The survival instinct recognises that it's in a place where the person has had a fear response before. Survival instinct gives a, "Be Careful!" warning. 

2. The person feels the warning and looks for what the danger may be. Then remembers what happened the last time.
Person gets afraid it will happen again and starts checking body for the start of symptoms.

3. Survival instinct notices that the person has listened to its warning and has responded by getting more afraid.
Survival instinct therefore decides there IS danger. 
Survival instinct sets fight or flight in motion to save the person.

4. Person notices heart beating faster and thinks this is confirmation that a panic attack is happening...
Person now focusing only on looking for next symptom and trying to stop it...

5. Survival instinct recognises that person is still getting more and more afraid so increases heart rate etc. to save them...
And so it goes on...

It is reacting with more fear (raised negative arousal) in response to a survival instinct warning that causes the physical symptoms of fight or flight to be set into action, as shown previously.

What is very important to note, however, is that it is the, 'What if I panic?' thought that has actually caused the panic attack to happen.

So we can reduce the causes of panic attacks to one sentence:

A panic attack only happens if you join in with the warning!


6. How to Overcome Anxiety Attacks Permanently

Many sufferers are advised to attempt to overcome their panics by going to a feared place and staying there until they feel calm. This is fine if the person is able to stay there until they truly do feel calm.

What happens more often, however, is that they become increasingly anxious until they just can't bear it any longer and so run away. 

Doing this will just make the problem worse rather than better.

To understand how to go about overcoming anxiety attacks without undue stress and without making the problem worse, read about better options by clicking the link below.



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