Panic Disorder

Individuals who experience panic disorder go through frequent unexpected panic attacks and fear about when the next attack will occur. This leads to them actively avoiding places, events, or behaviours that they believe are triggers to your panic attacks. The constant fear and avoidance leads to a distressed and dysfunctional lifestyle that may also impact their relationships with others.


Biological and Physiological Symptoms of a Panic Attack

When a threatening situation is perceived, such as when one is walking on the streets at night or conducting a presentation, the "Fight or Flight" mode in the sympathetic nervous system is aroused. This arousal causes one to feel a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that comes quickly and peaks within minutes.

Despite the discomfort it causes, this is an adaptive reaction for survival. Having intensified reactions during a threatening situation helps us to detect dangers and respond in an effective and efficient manner. However, when an individual becomes overly sensitive to danger and feels such reactions despite there being no apparent threat, this is when panic attacks can occur.

Some physiological responses experienced during a panic attack include:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

If an individual experiences such attacks frequently and consequently worries about experiencing another, they may be experiencing panic disorder.


Types of Therapy for Panic Disorder

Medication can be provided for panic disorder to help individuals deal with their symptoms, however, it is often recommended that this is supplemented with therapy as well.

Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” helps one learn about how their emotions affect their behaviours. A therapist listens and talks to you about your thoughts and feelings and suggests ways to understand and manage them and your anxiety disorder. This can be done in different ways depending on the types of therapy involved:

✽ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help one explore different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations. CBT can be done individually or with a group of others facing similar difficulties. Clients are likely to be assigned things to try out on their own, to challenge their fears and avoidance tendencies. 

✽ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) fosters an open, non-judgmental attitude toward the feelings and sensations that arise in the body in the present moment, recognizing them for what they are. The fundamental ideas in ACT for anxiety and panic involve the concept of psychological flexibility to teach anxiety acceptance, differentiating the self from anxiety and panic sensations, and responding in the individual's chosen directions.