If your loved one has had excessive anxiety that has led to severe symptoms, they may be dealing with panic attacks. In today’s blog, we will discuss how to spot whether a panic disorder has developed or is developing in a loved one and how to help.
What is a Panic Disorder?
First, a panic attack begins with an intense wave of fear characterized by an intense feeling of impending doom. Following that are physical symptoms that include rapid heart rate, having trouble breathing, shakiness, sweats, tense muscles, and a buzzed feeling. These can be frightening when you don’t know what’s going on. Your brain initiates the fight or flight response, thinking that you’re in danger and need protection.
Usually, a panic attack is a one-time occurrence and can occur due to various situations, such as trauma, phobias, or sometimes, seemingly, randomly. However, for some, the panic attack can be so severe that it sets up a pattern of repeated episodes, especially if the first one was triggered by something that happens more than once. These situations may include:
- Speaking in public
- Fear of heights
- Crossing a bridge
- Fear of spiders
- Fear of flying
- Medical procedures
- Being at the dentist
There are many phobias and situational episodes that can bring on a panic attack. It turns into a disorder if these attacks continue and severely affect someone’s life.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder
The main signs a loved one may have a panic disorder include:
- Experiencing frequent and unexpected panic attacks that aren’t tied to a particular situation,
- Worrying when they will experience another attack
- Behaving differently, such as avoiding places where the first one occurred.
Although a panic attack only lasts a few minutes, usually, it’s enough of an emotional turmoil that even the memory of it leads someone to fear the next one. This sets up a vicious cycle because stressing about it turns on the stress response that then escalates the panic, thus perpetuating the fear.
Symptoms of panic disorder include anticipatory anxiety and phobic avoidance (avoiding situations, places, food, medication, etc.). If the avoidance becomes severe, it can turn into agoraphobia, fear of public spaces, and open spaces. For instance, you can start avoiding crowded places, such as shopping malls or sports arenas, as well as:
- Avoiding or limiting being in cars, airplanes, subways, and other transportation
- Avoiding social gatherings or situations where it could be embarrassing to suffer from a panic attack
- Avoiding particular food or drinks, as well as medication.
- Going anywhere alone or even being at home alone
- Physical exercise since it increases your heart rate and can trigger panic
Agoraphobia usually develops within a year of your first recurrent panic attack and can last years without treatment.
Causes of Panic Disorder
Even though many things can cause panic attacks, sometimes panic can be triggered by physical pathology. In essence, this might include hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), mitral valve prolapse (a minor cardiac issue that happens when the heart’s valves don’t close properly) stimulant use, or medication withdrawal.
Tips for Reducing Panic
Panic attacks can be quite scary, but they aren’t harmful. The key to understanding them and overcoming them is knowledge. Read about anxiety and panic and discover that it can’t hurt your loved ones—something they need to know. The sensations they feel are normal.
Your family member needs to avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine, and learn how to control their breathing since hyperventilation can make panic worse. Practicing mediation, yoga, or mindfulness is a great way to reduce the stress response, so encourage your loved ones to pick one of those stress-reducing exercises.
Physical exercise is excellent for reducing anxiety. It could be as much as 20-30 minutes daily. Rhythmic aerobic exercise can help. Last but not least, get enough restful sleep that includes deep sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours.
Need More Intense Help?
If your loved one is suffering in which they have become disabled by a panic disorder, please reach out to Ardu Recovery Center. We can discuss with you your options and create a customized plan to help your loved one overcome a panic disorder and empower themselves. Call us today for more information.