Panic And Agoraphobia
What is panic?
Fear and anxiety are normal emotions which we all experience from time to time. It is essential that we are able to experience fear as this forms part of our self preservation response, sometimes called the ‘flight or fight’ response. We experience these emotions when an actual immediate threat is present (when we call it fear) or when we perceive a threat to be present which may not be a true threat (when we call it anxiety).
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety usually peaking within ten minutes. Panic can be very frightening because it often “comes out of the blue”. Most people describe a sudden, overwhelming sense of anxiety, including:
Feelings of absolute terror
Very rapid breathing and heartbeat
Dizziness or faintness
Sweating and hot or cold flushes
Feelings of unreality.
Numbness or tingling
The first time a person experiences panic it can be so unusual and frightening that the person may not realize that it is caused by anxiety. It can affect people in many different ways, but these are usually accompanied by a frightening feeling that something really awful is about to happen. They may believe it is something much more serious, like a physical or mental illness. For example: they may fear they are having a heart attack or a stroke, that they will faint or go mad or lose control of their bowels. However, panic is quite common and not a sign of serious mental or physical illness (even though it may be very frightening at first).
When we say someone has panic disorder we mean they are experiencing frequent repeated panic attacks. Some people experience panic attacks every day, others less often. Panic disorder can also be thought of as a ‘fear of fear’ or a fear of the symptoms of anxiety which are taken as a sign of something serious or even fatal. People with panic disorder often go to great lengths to avoid the symptoms of anxiety or develop ways of coping that can help to reduce their anxiety in the short term but severely limit their lives in the long term.
Panic disorder with agoraphobia
Agoraphobia describes the anxiety felt when leaving home or when in situations such as: crowded streets or shops, enclosed areas such as lifts, cinemas, and theatres, travelling on certain forms of transport such as trains or aeroplanes, walking through tunnels or across bridges, being alone at home or in open spaces. Sometimes people will try to prevent feelings of anxiety or panic by avoiding these situations. This can lead to them doing less and avoiding more things which can result in life becoming increasingly limited and restricted.
What can be done about it?
When we use CBT to treat a panic (with or without agoraphobia) we begin by looking at the thoughts and emotions that people experience and particularly the things they do (behaviours) to cope. Much of what we think and do, can affect how we feel emotionally. We look to change behaviours away from those that maintain panic and agoraphobia toward those that help break the vicious cycle of panic and agoraphobia.
If you would like support from our service to tackle panic you will normally be offered 4 to 5 sessions of CBT over the telephone – click here for more information.
‘An introduction to coping with Panic’ by Charles Young
‘Overcoming Panic’ by Derrick Silove (*Available from BANES Library service)
* Books marked as ‘Available from BANES Library service’ are available through the Books on Prescription scheme. You do not need to be a library member to borrow these books. Click here for more information.
No Panic – website, help line, telephone support groups