Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Panic Disorder, What You Need to Know

You can't Just Get Over It

When someone has a panic disorder they may be embarrassed to talk about it. A lot of people see a disorder of this type as a weakness in that person. Typically, a person with a panic disorder has survived a life of intense stress, trauma and/or serious injury. Oftentimes, friends and family think they can just “get over it” and be better. Although in some people counseling does work to help the person control the attacks, it does not heal the damage to the brain.

Panic Disorders Can Be Triggered By Violence

Panic disorders can be triggered by a life of being mugged, broken into, raped or living with an abusive person, whether that abuse be emotional or physical. It may be an illness. A person may have suffered an illness that scared them, made them fear for their life. When the brain undergoes such an emotional and/or physical trauma, the brain reacts with a fight or flight reaction. The brain tells the person to run and save themselves or stay and fight. When the brain is doing this a lot, then it gets in the habit, so to speak, of thinking this way. The process that the brain works is changed, sometimes permanently.

Computer Glitch 

It is NOT a sign of weakness but a sign that the brain simply said “enough is enough” The “fight or flight” signal in the brain gets stuck in the ON position, unable to turn off. Think of it as a computer glitch that cannot be overcome.


There are medicines but like all medicines, there are side effects. Many people cannot handle these on a long term basis. Many of the drugs are addictive and cannot be taken for a long time, leaving the person without medications during the time needed to prevent addiction. This may leave the person vulnerable, having to cope with fears without the aid of the drugs that set the brain’s computer back on track


Sometimes a person with a panic disorder can become agoraphobic. They may not feel comfortable leaving their home for many fears. The most common being fear of a panic attack. This fear of triggering a panic attack can cause a person to avoid many situations, especially if their disorder was triggered outside of their home. They may be fearful of getting lost; taking the wrong bus or being stranded somewhere. They may be afraid of car accidents or strangers approaching their car. The panic attack increases the fear.

The person may not realize that it is the actual feeling of panic that they fear, not necessarily the feel of the dirt beneath their feet, for example.

Symptoms of an Attack

  • Racing heart
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Intense fear
  • Visual disturbances such as everything going white
  • Feeling like passing out
  • Sense of eminent danger
  • Trembling
  • All over body shaking
  • Fight or flight, desire to run and remove oneself from the situation
  • Fear of open spaces
  • Fear of closed spaces
  • Sweaty palms, cold palms
  • The Brain Sustains Damage in its Processing

Things That Can Trigger an Attack

  • Getting lost on the bus route
  • Riding the bus
  • Health issues
  • Having blood pressure taken
  • Being attacked
  • Fear of leaving house
  • Fear of people
  • Being abused by restraint, causing fear of belts, hugs, tight spaces
  • Being in a car accident, fear of riding or driving a car
  • Not All Inclusive

This is not an all inclusive list of what can cause a panic disorder. The varying triggers are as different as each individual person. As each person has their own personality, the brain reacts differently to stress. Trying to find the trigger, asking yourself or the person in your life what happened, what caused the panic disorder; is not something that is likely to bring to light any one incident. PTSD can be caused by one incident, but a panic disorder takes time and continued stressors.

Good Support is Key

Panic disorders are very real though many people are not believed by family and friends. This lack of support system only adds to the problem, it does not make them tougher or help them learn to cope. It is not about knowledge, it is about how the brain being stuck in the fight or flight setting. People with panic disorders need love and patience as they re-teach their brain to react in a calmer manner. This cannot happen if they are surrounded by stressful people.

If you feel you have a panic disorder, do not be bashful, contact a mental health clinic and get evaluated. There may be a free or low-income clinic in your area if you do not have insurance. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is difficult to leave the house when you have a panic disorder so thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are many groups to join and you may be able to find an online support person. It is worth it to check around and see what your options are and how you can get help comfortably.

© 2014 Cynthianne Neighbors

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