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Finding Inner Calm: Understanding and Overcoming Panic Disorder

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Panic disorder is a common mental health condition that can have a big impact on people's lives today. It's important to understand this condition and find ways to overcome it. When you have panic disorder, it can disrupt your everyday life and make it hard to do the things you enjoy.


The feelings of fear, helplessness, and isolation during panic attacks can be really tough to deal with. And let's not forget about the physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness that can make everything even more challenging (NIMH, 2022). But here's the good news: understanding panic disorder is the first step towards regaining control and finding inner calm.


In this blog post, we'll dive into all the important aspects of panic disorder, explore effective strategies to manage and treat it, and share stories of real people who have successfully overcome this journey. So, let's join forces and learn how to understand and overcome panic disorder together. It's time to take back control of our lives.


Panic disorder: what is it and how to recognise it


Panic disorder is a specific type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. It's important to differentiate panic disorder from regular anxiety because panic attacks are more intense and sudden, often peaking within minutes and accompanied by a sense of impending doom or a fear of losing control.


During a panic attack, individuals may experience a range of distressing symptoms, including a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, sweating, and a feeling of being detached from reality (NIMH, 2022). These physical symptoms can be alarming and may lead individuals to believe they are having a heart attack or going crazy. However, it's essential to understand that panic attacks are not life-threatening and are a result of the body's natural response to perceived threats.


In addition to the physical symptoms, panic disorder also has significant psychological aspects. Individuals with panic disorder often live in constant fear of experiencing another panic attack, leading to a heightened state of anxiety and hypervigilance. This fear can have a profound impact on their daily lives, causing them to avoid certain situations or places where they fear a panic attack may occur.


Understanding both the physiological and psychological aspects of panic disorder is crucial in developing effective strategies for managing and overcoming this challenging condition.


Understanding the Causes and Triggers of Panic Disorder


Panic disorder can arise from a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, and environmental influences. While the exact cause is not fully understood, research suggests that individuals with a family history of panic disorder are more likely to develop the condition themselves (Van Houtem, 2013).


Additionally, imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, may contribute to the development of panic disorder. Environmental factors can also play a role, with stressful life events, traumatic experiences, and major life transitions serving as triggers for panic attacks. Stress, in particular, can exacerbate symptoms and increase the frequency of panic episodes. It's important to recognize these personal triggers, as they vary from person to person, in order to better manage panic disorder.


By identifying specific situations, thoughts, or emotions that lead to panic attacks, individuals can develop coping mechanisms and implement strategies to minimize their impact. Understanding the causes and triggers of panic disorder empowers individuals to take control of their condition and work towards reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks.


Breaking the Cycle: Strategies for Overcoming Panic Disorder

Panic disorder often involves a vicious cycle that can be challenging to break free from. It starts with the fear of experiencing another panic attack, which in turn can trigger more panic attacks. This fear of the physical and emotional distress associated with panic attacks can become overwhelming and all-consuming, leading individuals to engage in avoidance behaviors.


For example, they may avoid certain places or situations where they fear a panic attack might occur, such as crowded spaces or public transportation. Over time, these avoidance behaviors can escalate and develop into a condition called agoraphobia, where individuals become afraid of leaving their homes altogether. Breaking free from this cycle of panic is essential for individuals to regain control of their lives.


Various strategies can be employed, including:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs associated with panic attacks, replacing them with more realistic and adaptive ones.

  • exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves gradually and safely exposing individuals to situations or stimuli that trigger panic attacks, allowing them to confront their fears and learn that panic attacks are not life-threatening.

  • relaxation exercises: Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation, can also help manage the physical symptoms and promote a sense of calm during panic attacks.

By implementing these strategies, individuals can gradually break the cycle of panic, reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks, and regain a sense of control and confidence in their lives.





Seeking professional help is a crucial step for individuals dealing with panic disorder. If you suspect that you have panic disorder or are struggling with its symptoms, it's important to reach out to a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor. These professionals are trained to diagnose and treat panic disorder effectively. They can provide the support and guidance needed to navigate through the challenges of this condition.

How Exposure therapy can help


Exposure therapy is one therapeutic approach that can be highly effective in its treatment. It is a form of treatment that aims to reduce anxiety and panic attacks by gradually exposing individuals to the situations or triggers that provoke their panic. The process involves confronting fears in a safe and controlled environment, guided by a trained therapist. By facing these fears head-on, individuals can learn that their anxiety and panic symptoms are manageable and not as threatening as they initially perceived (Powers, 2007).

A therapist specializing in exposure therapy can guide you through various techniques and exercises tailored to your specific triggers. This might involve creating a fear hierarchy, where situations or stimuli related to panic are ranked from least to most anxiety-provoking. The therapist will then assist you in systematically facing these fears, starting with the least distressing and gradually progressing towards more challenging scenarios. Through repeated exposure and practice, the anxiety response is gradually desensitized, leading to a reduction in panic symptoms over time.

Meet Emily: her story to overcome phobias


Meet Samantha, a bright and ambitious 25-year-old who, despite her potential, found herself trapped in the suffocating grip of panic attacks. These episodes of intense fear and anxiety had taken control of her life, leaving her feeling helpless and isolated.


Samantha's panic attacks began unexpectedly during her college years. Racing heart, shortness of breath, and a sense of impending doom would wash over her at the most inconvenient times. As the attacks became more frequent and unpredictable, she started avoiding places and situations that she associated with panic, which only exacerbated her anxiety.


Determined to regain control of her life, Samantha decided to seek professional help. She connected with a compassionate therapist who specialized in treating anxiety disorders. The therapist introduced Samantha to exposure therapy, a highly effective approach for tackling panic attacks.


In their first session, Samantha and her therapist discussed her specific triggers and fears, which often revolved around crowded places and public transportation. They developed a personalized plan that involved gradual exposure to these anxiety-inducing situations.


Samantha's first exposure exercise was riding a bus for a short distance, accompanied by her therapist. She was terrified, but with her therapist's guidance, she faced her fear head-on. Over time, they increased the duration of the bus rides and ventured into crowded places like shopping malls.


Throughout the process, Samantha learned valuable coping strategies to manage her panic attacks. Deep breathing exercises and grounding techniques became her allies when anxiety threatened to overwhelm her. She also gained insight into the cognitive distortions that fueled her panic, and her therapist helped her challenge and reframe these irrational thoughts.


Samantha's progress was marked by small victories. From avoiding buses altogether, she was now commuting to work independently. The once-dreaded trips to crowded stores became opportunities for her to practice relaxation and mindfulness.


Months into her exposure therapy journey, Samantha achieved a significant milestone. She attended a large outdoor festival, an event she would have never considered before. Surrounded by a sea of people, she felt a sense of triumph as she realized that panic no longer held her captive.


Samantha's success story was a testament to her resilience and the transformative power of exposure therapy. She no longer lived in fear of panic attacks but embraced life's adventures with newfound courage and freedom. Her journey of overcoming panic attacks served as an inspiration to others facing similar challenges, proving that with determination and the right guidance, it's possible to break free from the chains of anxiety and live life to the fullest


We have explored several important aspects of understanding and overcoming panic disorder. We have learned that panic disorder can have a significant impact on individuals' lives, disrupting daily functioning and causing emotional distress. By differentiating panic disorder from regular anxiety, we have identified the distinct symptoms experienced during panic attacks and the physiological and psychological aspects involved.

We have also delved into the causes and triggers of panic disorder, recognizing the role of genetics, brain chemistry, stress, trauma, and major life transitions. Moreover, we have discussed the cycle of panic, the development of avoidance behaviors, and the importance of recognizing personal triggers. However, the journey to overcoming panic disorder is not a solitary one. It is crucial to seek professional help, such as therapy or counseling, to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

As we conclude, I want to encourage all readers who are struggling with panic disorder to take action and seek the help they deserve. Remember, you are not alone, and there is hope. Panic disorder is treatable and manageable with the right support, strategies, and interventions. With determination, guidance from a qualified professional, and a willingness to explore different approaches, you can regain control of your life, find inner calm, and embark on a journey towards improved well-being.



References:

  • National Institute Mental Health (NIMH). (2022). Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms

  • Van Houtem C.M.H.H., Laine M.L., Boomsma D.I., Ligthart L., van Wijk A.J., De Jongh A. (2013). A review and meta-analysis of the heritability of specific phobia subtypes and corresponding fears.

  • Powers, M., Emmelkamp, P.M.G. (2007). Virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis, Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

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