Whew! Thank God it’s the weekend, so I can finally relax and have some solitude, Erin thinks as she sits down at her kitchen counter to eat her breakfast. When she takes her first bite, she feels her heart racing. Touching her hand to her chest she looks down in confusion.
Startled, Erin wonders, Why is my heart racing? There’s nothing I have planned to do today, so what’s giving me this surge of nervousness? Her breathing becomes more and more ragged and quickly spirals out of control. Heart pounding out of her chest, Erin leans back into her chair, placing her hands above her head trying to get more air. Am I having a heart attack?! Then she remembers this same feeling that happened not too long ago. No, she is having another panic attack, not even two weeks after the first. Gasping for air, Erin realizes she’s all alone.
Why is nobody here? Dad should’ve been home by now, I need help! A couple of minutes pass with Erin at the counter, still struggling to breathe and frozen in fear. Over the next few weeks, Erin is in constant dread of having another panic attack. She hates the feeling of breathing uncontrollably, which leads to her heart beating so hard it hurts. But, above all, Erin makes sure to stay in public areas or that someone is always home, so she is never alone.
Erin is experiencing panic disorder. Panic disorder is when an individual has had a panic attack and fears having another one for a prolonged period of time. A panic attack is a singular event of intense panic (usually due to stress), resulting in shortness of breath. Though commonly confused with panic attacks, panic disorder is slightly different. The difference is the consistency and length of time living in fear of having another panic attack. Diagnosis of this condition only occurs after a physician has taken a test such as the EKG, and a psychologist performs an evaluation to discuss the individual’s symptoms. This ensures that the proper treatment is given (Mayo Clinic, 2018). A clear sign of panic disorder is if an individual has frequent and unexpected attacks that leave them constantly worried about having another for over a month. It can reach a point where they avoid situations to prevent triggers of an attack.
When the consequences of having another attack lead to significant changes in an individual’s behavior, this is also a sign of panic disorder. If you feel as if you are “losing control”, “having a heart attack” or “going crazy,” these are all criteria of this condition and validate the diagnosis (Mayo Clinic, 2018). In Erin’s case, she fulfilled all of the criteria for panic disorder. Her behavior changed significantly, conforming to the behavior seen in this condition. She experiences a sense of complete lack of control and feelings of having a heart attack. This has led her to behave outside of her norm as a solitary person, to one who now has made it her goal to never be alone. Though Erin has found a viable coping mechanism, this is not the treatment she needs to get back to her norm and improve her quality of life.
Treatment for panic disorder can help reduce both the frequency and intensity in which panic attacks can occur. “The main treatment options are psychotherapy and medications. One or both types of treatment may be recommended, depending on your preference, your history, the severity of your panic disorder” (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Access to therapists that specialize in this condition is also a factor. Psychotherapy, commonly known as talk therapy, is considered a very effective treatment option because it helps to fully understand the condition and cope with it in a healthy manner. Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, helps to learn that the panic symptoms are not dangerous through the individual’s experiences. This is done by gradually recreating symptoms of a panic attack. All symptoms are simulated in a safe environment to ensure treatment is realistic and safe. “Once the physical sensations of panic no longer feel threatening, the attacks begin to resolve” (Mayo Clinic, 2018). The first choice of medication given to individuals with panic disorder is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This is a low-risk antidepressant typically recommended for treating panic attacks. This is a selective serotonin inhibitor that helps by stabilizing levels of serotonin, decreasing the feeling of anxiety or fear (VeryWellMind, 2019).
If you have been struggling with panic attacks or panic disorder, there is a way to get better. With the help of therapy and medication, getting back to the person you once were is achievable. When an individual finds themselves fulfilling the criteria Erin has displayed, they should not lose hope because there are many treatment possibilities. If you are willing to try, these treatments are viable options toward a better quality of life.
Mayo Clinic. Panic Attacks and Disorder. Retrieved 15 November, 2019, from, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376027
(n.d.) Retrieved from, https://pixabay.com/photos/fear-anxiety-emotion-worry-scared-2019930/
VeryWellMind. How SSRIs Are Used in the Treatment of Panic Disorder. Retrieved 15 November, 2019, from,