It comes to ravage you; like a thief in the night. It pounces without warning; it makes you lose a piece of yourself every single time. The intense fear, your heart ripping through your chest, the inability to breathe as if you’re drowning, the immense sweating, the room spinning like a ferris wheel and, worse yet, the feeling that your heart is about to stop. Sounds familiar?
Well, Panic Anxiety Disorder is the culprit! It is a subtype of Anxiety Disorder, which is a psychological disorder that involves excessive levels of negative emotions, such as nervousness, tension, worry, fright and anxiety. Anxiety presents itself with a diffused, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension, often accompanied by autonomic symptoms such as headaches, perspiration, palpitations, tightness in the chest, mild stomach discomfort, and restlessness, indicated by an inability to sit or stand still for long.
Consider Anxiety Disorder to be a big family of distinct mental disorders. Its subtypes are Panic Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Specific Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder or Phobia and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It [anxiety disorders] can also increase your risk of other medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse and depression.
Panic anxiety disorder surfaces when you experience recurring unexpected panic attacks and feelings of impending doom. While panic attacks are simply abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes, it comes with that daily fear of having another attack. Episodes are acute with intense periods of severe fear that varies from several attacks during one day to only a few attacks during the year.
Its first attack is spontaneous and sometimes followed by excitement, physical exertion, sexual activity or moderate emotional trauma. Changes in your dietary habits (consuming more caffeine, nicotine, alcohol; or unusual patterns of eating) or sleeping habits may prompt an attack. Lasting about 30 – 60 minutes, the attack may begin with about 10 minutes of intense palpitations
(accelerated heart rate), shortness of breath and sweating, feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, faint chills or heat sensations, feelings of unreality (de-realization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization), fear of losing control or “going crazy” and fear of dying. Symptoms disappear quickly or gradually.
But even around every dark cloud there is a silver lining and, contrary to beliefs, anxiety can be normal and we all experience it from time to time. For instance, it is present when preparing for an important examination, getting married, becoming a parent or even when considering finances and it is even beneficial in warning us of external threats, thus activating the flight or fright response.
Yet, for many of us, it is the opposite of what colours our life. The dominant emotions we experience daily are those dread of anxiety. There is always a lingering, overwhelming feeling that you will be humiliated in society, lose your job or the people you love.
If this is what you have been experiencing, you are not alone. Approximately 1-4% of the world’s population suffer from this disorder and, more so, if you are a woman, you are two to three times more at risk than men. Its onset is usually early to mid-20’s, but it can occur at any age.
Research shows that if you have a fearful, anxious, nervous or even a competitive personality, you are at risk of having this disorder. Furthermore, living in a household that is overly demanding and constantly expecting perfection, or even experiencing a stressful life event, such as a divorce, death of a loved one or losing your job, makes you are a prime candidate to develop Panic Anxiety Disorder . There is an even higher risk if you are a victim of physical and/or sexual abuse or have experienced other traumatic events. In addition, there is a strong link between panic disorder and familial patterns. People with a close biological family member with Panic Disorder are eight times more likely to develop this condition themselves. The disorder has been found to be accompanied by depression and agoraphobia.
Depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a type of mood disorder characterized by persistent and pervasive feelings of sadness and worthlessness and a lack of desire to engage in formerly pleasurable activities and it may even coexist with panic disorder. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in public places with an abnormal fear of being helpless in situations from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing. As a result, there is a sense of imprisonment, so you avoid public places and you never leave the house unaccompanied. Combined, they leave you like an empty, hopeless shell and you may wonder if there is any escape from this ravenous beast. Fortunately, there is. It is important to seek medical attention, since there are ways to regain your life and live without fear with the aid of pharmacological (medication) and non-pharmacological (cognitive and behavioural therapy) treatments. When pharmacological treatment is coupled with cognitive and behavioural therapy, the treatment is more effective. Cognitive therapy stresses the fact that panic attacks are time limited, not life threatening and gives awareness about panic attacks.
Research shows that 30- 40% of all individuals seem to be symptom free after a long follow up while about 50% have symptoms that are sufficiently mild and doesn’t affect their lives significantly. Less than 20% continue to have significant symptoms.