Dubbed the silent epidemic, anxiety affects over 6 million people in the UK, with over 240,000 new cases diagnosed each year – but what if it becomes something else?
Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder that’s characterised by frequent, unexpected panic attacks that strike for no apparent reason. This can lead to a vicious cycle of fear, with sufferers avoiding situations or places where attacks have previously occurred, allowing for other conditions, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Agoraphobia to take hold.
Whilst many people may have heard of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder has been far less publicised and can be extremely debilitating if unmanaged – so here are 10 things that everybody should know about Panic Disorder.
1. Its unpredictable
People who suffer from Panic Disorder will have panic attacks on a regular basis. For some, it will be twice a month, for others it will be almost daily, but these attacks will often come out of nowhere, with no apparent warning signs. Mental health charity Anxiety UK says, “People living with Panic Disorder often feel fine one minute, and totally out of control and in the grips of a panic attack the next.”
2. It’s not just a mental illness
Panic attacks produce very real, physical symptoms, including a rapid increase in heart rate, a churning stomach; dry mouth, shortness of breath, gripping chest pain, sweating, trembling and dizziness.
3. Sufferers often develop a ‘fear of fear’
Anxiety UK says: “The physical symptoms of Panic Disorder are naturally unpleasant, and the accompanying psychological thoughts of terror can make a panic attack a very scary experience. For this reason, those experiencing panic attacks start to dread the next attack, and quickly enter into a cycle of living ‘in fear of fear’.”
4. They may experience Derealisation
Derealisation is an overwhelming feeling of detachment from the sufferer’s situation, body and surroundings. The person will feel as though they are merely an observer, as they walk around in a surreal, dream-like state.
It is said that author, Lewis Carroll, suffered from forms of derealisation called Micropsia and Macropsia, where objects seemingly change in size and distance; this is now known as ‘Alice in a Wonderland syndrome.’
5. Drinking can make it worse
According to Anxiety UK, “People sometimes turn to alcohol to reduce anxiety and calm their nerves. However, in reality, alcohol can actually make anxiety worse because it replaces the mind’s ability to cope with stress. Regular, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.”
6. Panic Disorder can lead to other anxiety-based conditions, such as Agoraphobia
Some sufferers will start to avoid situations or places in which they’ve previously had a panic attack in fear of it happening again. According to the ADAA, 1 in 3 people with Panic Disorder will develop Agoraphobia if their condition is not managed correctly.
7. Anti-depressants are often used to treat anxiety disorders, such as Panic Disorder
SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Uptake Rehabilitators) are commonly used to treat anxiety as they offer fewer side effects than other types of medication. When asked whether they felt medication was an effective part of treatment, Anxiety UK said, “Prescription medication can often take time for the benefits to be seen, whereas many people expect an instant improvement which is often not the case. If medication can be combined with therapy, along with the daily use of self-help techniques, then the more likely someone is to have long term recovery.”
8. It has different symptoms to Generalised Anxiety Disorder because…
According to Anxiety UK, “GAD symptoms are mainly anxiety-based. People with GAD tend to have chronic worries and concerns about things that are unlikely to happen; for example someone with this disorder might worry constantly about the possibility of being in a traffic accident. People with GAD also often worry excessively even over largely inconsequential matters, and tend to automatically think the worst when something goes wrong or happens unexpectedly. Chronic physical symptoms such as muscle tension and aches, headaches, fatigue, trembling and twitching, irritability, difficulty swallowing, and the feeling of a lump in the throat, are common.
9. It can be frustrating, but it can be managed
Anxiety UK says, “If you feel that your anxiety is preventing you from enjoying everyday life, there is help and support available. You don’t have to suffer alone. Although, there is no ‘cure’ for anxiety disorders as such, a combination of therapy, medication and self-help measures can help anybody affected by anxiety overcome their disorder and reach a point where ‘they control their anxiety, rather than the anxiety controlling them.'”
10. You’re not alone
For every 100 people in the UK, 10 will have mixed anxiety and depression; 5 will have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and 1 will have Panic Disorder. With 64.1million residents in the UK, that’s a lot of people going through the same thing as you. Don’t suffer in silence, let’s talk.