Mental Health Awareness Week- Panic Disorder
I thought I’d explain a little about my experience with Panic Disorder in my second post for mental health awareness week:)
“Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear.”
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times, this does not mean you have an anxiety disorder and is likely to be merely a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations. Welldone you. Your brain works properly. Our bodies are built to react to situations that make us feel uneasy. Those with Panic disorder have a chemical imbalance which leads their bodies to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode regularly with no triggers.
Fight or Flight, Freeze?
A tiger is about to attack- do you fight it, flight (run away) or freeze- don’t move? Your instincts will act quickly and respond therefore the decision is not in your hands.
A perfect example of ‘Fight, Flight Freeze’ is when you slam on the brakes when the car in front of you suddenly stops, you do not stop to think about your decision. Your body reacts to its own instincts quickly to protect you… In someone with Panic disorder the body doesn’t understand its potential dangers and therefore is over sensitive in its responses. As someone who has lived with anxiety disorders I always include freeze as I feel fight and flight aren’t always what actually happens!
I speak in past tense as I would say I am pretty much over the panic stage of my life * touch wood* & gosh am I pleased! So how did I do it? It was not easy! I did a previous post on accessing therapies. Exposure Technique & CBT along with medication ( I tried tonnes- this was definitely about finding what worked for me).
For someone with panic disorder, intense sudden feelings of anxiety, stress and panic occur very regularly often for no apparent reason. It can effect quality of life greatly & be exceptionally inconvenient.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder are apparent during an anxiety attack or panic attack which is where feelings are suddenly intensified.
Feelings of high anxiety whilst awful and very distracting are different to anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks become uncontrollable. People with other anxiety disorders can have panic attacks but it is likely they have more of a trigger & do not come out of the blue like in Panic disorder.
A racing heartbeat
Short of breath
Pins and needles
A need to go to the toilet
Ringing in your ears
A churning stomach
Tingling in your fingers
A need to escape a situation
Feeling like you’re not connected to your body
A lack of control
For me, I experienced anxiety most of the day- these symptoms would be toilet issues, nausea, stomach aches, feeling constantly on edge or dizzy.
When I had an anxiety attack, symptoms would exacerbate, I would run as far away from a situation as I could until I dropped my body to the floor- My reasoning? If I fainted, I couldn’t go anywhere as I’m already on the floor. I would feel a wave come over me- some days I could feel it coming on building for a few hours, other days in seconds.
My main symptoms of an attack were: cold sweats, hyperventilating- couldn’t speak, dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, weak legs. After I experienced a panic attack I would feel a sense of relief. You know sometimes when you’ve been sick? You feel better for a short period of time after being sick as you’ve got it all out? Then your next round of nausea begins before you are sick again. This is the best way to explain how my panic cycle was.
Perseverance and Resilience are important in overcoming your mental health condition. Accepting your set backs but getting back up again is what will keep you going.
“The number of attacks you have will depend on how severe your condition is. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, while others have them several times a week.”
Why me & not them?
It is not totally known what causes someone to have panic disorder, but factors such as these may play a role:
Major stresses or Traumas
Being more sensitive to anxiety/ stress or prone to negative emotions
Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function and it’s chemicals
Many people with panic disorder experience phobias. No this isn’t simply being ‘scared’ of spiders. It’s a fear. The thought of your trigger being within 100 miles of you & your body goes into meltdown.
There are hundreds of phobias some specific to things like spiders, lifts or snakes- for me I had Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia. This basically meant small spaces and big open spaces. Weirdly the spaces didn’t have to be that small. Cars without windows being open. Classrooms with the door shut.
AGORAPHOBIA: extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.
CLAUSTROPHOBIA: extreme or irrational fear of confined places
People are very quick to throw words round such as ‘claustrophobic’ ‘depressed’. School kids are famous for the ‘jheez don’t have a panic attack comments’ or the ‘omg I’m gunna kill myself’ comments. Not only are they misusing words. Incorrect. Unnecessary & careless. They can be exceptionally triggering for people with mental health issues. The boy who cried wolf? If you make jokes about things like this- if god forbid you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed support people may not be so understanding.
So I guess that’s Panic Disorder in a nutshell. Work on yourself as a whole and things should get better, get medical support + don’t expect it to be an easy ride:)