Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by frequent and unexpected panic attacks.
So what is a panic attack? The panic attack consists of a sharp increase in the intensity of fear / anxiety, which reaches a very high peak in a short period of time, during which some (at least 4) of the following symptoms may occur (from the description that follows we realize that the symptoms of anxiety are both mental and physical).
So a panic attack occurs when the anxiety or fear we feel is so intense that it causes the following symptoms:
- trembling, heightened perception of one’s heartbeat or tachycardia;
- Excessive sweating;
- Tremors or shaking
- Feeling of lack of air or suffocation;
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal discomfort;
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint (eg leg weakness, dizziness, blurred vision),
- mental confusion;
- Chills or hot flashes
- Feelings of numbness or tingling
- Feeling of unreality (derealization, e.g. feeling that what we see, or otherwise perceive, is
- not real) or feeling of being detached from oneself (depersonalization);
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying.
Therefore, is the most acute and intense form of anxiety and has the characteristics of a crisis that takes place in about ten minutes. Typically, those who have experienced one or more panic attacks consequently tend to develop fear and concern that the panic attack may occur again and concern about the consequences of the panic attack itself (e.g. fear that with the occurrence of a series of panic attacks you can go crazy, lose control, risk a heart attack, etc.);
Consequently there is a tendency to avoid all a series of situations that are considered by the person as “at risk of panic attack” (eg avoiding places where panic attacks have already occurred, avoiding places where it is difficult to free oneself o go out and be able to return to familiar places, implement behaviors aimed at protecting yourself from a possible panic attack, for example when you are away from home try to park very close to be able to reach your vehicle as soon as possible in case that the person should be sick, or in any case take “safety measures” in case the panic attack should occur).
The most common protective behaviors are:
- bring anxiety medications with you;
- move only in areas where medical facilities are present;
- leave home only if accompanied by trusted people;
- always keep safety exits under control.
Generally, the person tends to avoid all situations or places that he considers “anxiety-provoking”, in which the person finds it difficult to find a “way out” or to get help in the event of a panic attack.
if extended to different areas and situations of daily life, are very disabling and constricting for the person who lives them, so as to compromise the quality of life: often the fear that develops with respect to the panic attack forces many people not to drive, for example, for fear that a panic attack will occur while driving and therefore of losing control in this situation, the person comes to this point to compromise his autonomy;
or, again, many people who live in very large urban centers who manage to avoid using public transport, such as the subway, for which they will have problems moving and reaching “important” places such as the workplace, school or even worse, social life is compromised (there is a tendency to give up meeting friends or in general to go away from home, often the person feels ashamed for the consequences that the panic attack could have or fears that other people might notice) .
Among the most common avoidance behaviors are:
- do not use a car, bus, subway, train or plane;
- do not go to closed places (eg cinemas);
- do not leave areas considered safe (eg home);
- do not make physical efforts.
Panic attacks can also be classified on the basis of the conditions in which they occur, that is, dependent on the situations and those that occur spontaneously; the latter occur unexpectedly, while those depending on the situations occur in correspondence with specific environmental conditions (e.g. staying in crowded places, in the elevator, in the subway, in the car, in places from which it is difficult to get free, etc.), or between these, those generated by internal stimuli (e.g. physical sensations such as the acceleration of the heartbeat, the feeling of lump in the throat, assessing that one is blushing in the face, etc.) often interpreted as anticipatory signals of anxiety and / or panic attack, or the person may begin to think that the cause is inside and have thoughts like: “I’m going to faint!”, “I’m going to have a heart attack!”, “I’ll lose control of me! “,” I’ll go crazy! “,” Oh my God, I’m going to die! “