What is Panic?

A panic attack can only be described as a comprehensive emotional nightmare.

Some people who experience anxiety and panic attacks feel like they are having a heart attack as their heart races out of control and they feel it beating faster every second. The fear is so strong it is hard to focus on anything else. The heart palpitations convince them that they are about to have an imminent heart attack.

Other people feel that they are going to “lose control” of themselves and something bad will happen that will be embarrassing to them in front of other people.  Others breathe quickly and shallowly, gasping for air, feeling they are about to suffocate.

Yet others worry about going crazy -- insane -- because the physical symptoms and fears hit them all at once and they can't stop or control them.  

It feels like they are in an escalating cycle of catastrophe and doom and that something bad is going to happen immediately – “right now this very moment.” 

Anxiety and panic are the physiological result of the release of two natural hormones in the body -- adrenaline and cortisol.  For these hormones to cause symptoms such as panic, they must be triggered by a source that produces anxiety in the individual.  This triggering causes the adrenal glands to release too much adrenaline and cortisol, thus producing the speediness of thought  and the emotional fear felt by people with panic.  

A panic attack typically lasts several long minutes and is one of the most distressing conditions a person can experience. In some cases, panic attacks have been known to last for longer periods of time or to recur very quickly over and over again. The aftermath of a panic attack is very painful. Feelings of depression and helplessness are usually experienced. The greatest fear is that the panic attack will come back again, tearing the individual down even further and making life too miserable to bear. 

A person suffering from panic attacks recently wrote to me:

I was 16 years old when I had my first panic attack in high school. “Why me?” I used to ask. “What’s wrong with me?”

I went from an outspoken extrovert to becoming very inward. It was a crippling blow to my self-esteem. Mostly I felt hopeless."

Another person wrote: "Soon after my first panic attacks, I focused on my heart pounding because I felt it so intensely during attacks. My heart will just take off during an attack. After that I feel a sensation of prickling throughout my arms and legs followed by a rush of blood flow to my heart. This happens over about 15-20 seconds."  

"I can almost feel the instant I lose control", wrote Sara. "There is such a quick onset of the adrenaline and my heart racing that has led me to feel hopeless at times. It can dial up within ten seconds and bam, a rush of this flooding goes to my brain, and I'm left hyper-ventilating."

It is no surprise that the intense physical sensations and confusion brought on by panic attacks can lead to a cycle of fear and devastation in peoples' lives.

John said: "It was only after I had several major life stressors that I had a panic attack so bad that it knocked my life off the rails. I was shaking. I had almost made it to work that day, but this panic attack changed my life so drastically that I was left wondering what had happened and how do I get back to normal? I went into work and hoped I would come back to my normal self, but I just felt scared and depressed and hopeless, like my world was coming down around me and I would never be the same again and I didn't know why. 

I went to the sandwich shop for lunch and hoped I'd feel normal, but it didn't happen, and at the shop I thought I'd have another panic attack. Day after day I hoped I'd feel better, but that weekend I just felt down and had more panic attacks. I noticed ringing in my ears during my second panic attack when I was at home alone. I was laying on my couch watching TV when I felt some negative feelings start stirring. I then heard a ringing in my ears, and this made me focus more internally on my fears. It scared me that I was going to have another panic attack. I hadn’t been scared about my previous attack in the same way. But, now, panic made me scared because I thought it meant I was going to have another attack, lose control, and die. It was a challenge just making it through every day at work, with a head full of twisted anxiety."

 

Some of the common symptoms of panic: 

aracing or pounding heartbeat,

dizziness or light-headedness

feeling that “I can’t catch my breath”

chest pains or a “heaviness” in the chest

bodily flushes or chills

tingling in the hands, feet, legs, arms

jumpiness,

trembling,

twitching muscles

sweaty palms,

flushed face

a feeling of terror

fear of losing control

fear of a stroke that will lead to disability

fear of dying

fear of going crazy

inability to sleep because of thinking about these horrors

nightmares that focus on fears associated with panic

worry and frustration about having another panic attack

 

In many places, specific therapy for panic and the phobias that accompany it... is not readily available... and if it is, it carries a financial and time-related cost to the patient. In a perfect world, it would be best for people experiencing their first anxiety episode to get professional treatment for it immediately – so that panic, anxiety, and any phobias could be prevented altogether. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world and people who experience these problems either need to find a comprehensive therapy source where they live, with a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, or follow the therapy as outlined in this series “Overcoming Panic and Anxiety”. 

 

"Panic has affected me in many public situations," said Dan. I'm deathly afraid of being in the spotlight. It's not just regular performance anxiety. It's that I could physically lose control. This has happened on dates when I've felt a panic attack coming on.​  Other sensations include sweating. My hands will sweat and blood rushes to my face. I also feel physically weak. If I talk my voice will not be normal. It goes up and down, depending on how scared I am." "

 

Also contributing to panic attacks and anxiety are some common phobias that children and adults develop. Most common is agoraphobia, which occurs when a person becomes so afraid of having panic attacks in varied outside places that they want to stay home, where they will be triggered less by anxiety and have fewer anxiety attacks. Agoraphobia occurs when panic attacks are suffered in many different places, such as driving on the freeway, going into a warehouse store, walking near a crowded road, or entering a crowded atmosphere. The main problem is the occurrence of panic attacks in many, varied places that makes the person anxious and fearful of having another panic attack in similar places. When all the world looks scary, a person tends to stay at home, many times becoming house-bound because of their fear of having a panic attack in public, outside the home.

There are many other phobias, including emetophobia – the fear of vomiting in public places – and aerophobia, the fear of flying in airplanes - that contribute to anxiety and make people afraid of having a panic attack. All panic-related phobias are similar in that they serve as anxiety triggers, and the fear is strong enough to lead to panic attacks.

Panic is not necessarily brought on by a recognizable circumstance, and the “why” may remain a mystery to the person involved. These attacks may come from “out of the blue”. At other times, excessive stress or other negative life conditions can trigger an attack. Returning to the place where a panic attack previously occurred can trigger a new attack. Claustrophobic conditions – where you feel trapped in an enclosed space and can’t get enough air to breathe – can bring on panic attacks.

 

Sadly, most people do not seek help for panic attacks, agoraphobia, and anxiety-related difficulties. This is especially tragic because panic and anxiety are treatable conditions that respond well to cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most researched and most successful way of getting over anxiety and panic disorder.  The National Institutes of Mental Health and the American Psychological Association both officially state that panic is one of the most successfully treated psychological problems in the world today.* Clinical research provides us with a solid blueprint of methods that can help us overcome anxiety and panic conditions.

Our History and Our Mission

The Anxiety Network began in 1995 due to growing demand from people around the world wanting help in understanding and overcoming their anxiety disorder.  The Anxiety and Stress Clinic and its website, The Anxiety Network, received so much traffic and requests for help that we found ourselves spending much of our time in international communication and outreach.  Our in-person anxiety clinic has grown tremendously, and our principal internet tool, The Anxiety Network, has been re-written and re-designed with focus on the three major anxiety disorders.  

The Anxiety Network  focuses on three of the major anxiety disorders:  panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

In 1997, The Social Anxiety Association, a non-profit organization, was formed and now has its own website.

The Social Anxiety Institute, the largest site on the internet for information and treatment of social anxiety, has maintained an active website since 1998.  Continuous, ongoing therapy groups have helped hundreds of people overcome social anxiety since 1994.  

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