The Importance of Psychological Support for Panic Disorder
Updated: Mar 17
Panic disorder is when an individual experiences intense fear and anxiety suddenly and without warning. During these episodes, physical symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a racing heartbeat may occur. To manage panic disorder, it's important to understand what causes it and what treatments are available. With the right knowledge and support, panic attacks can be managed successfully.
What Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks can be a very frightening experience, often coming out of the blue and seemingly without warning. They usually start with a trigger, be it a situation, a physical sensation, or a thought interpreted as a potential threat.
The body responds to this perceived threat with physical anxiety symptoms, such as a racing heart or tightness in the chest. The mind then interprets these physical sensations as a sign that something bad will happen. This creates a cycle of fear and physical distress which can quickly escalate into a full-blown panic episode.
Psychological Support to Cut the Panic Cycle
People can have a range of thoughts and beliefs about what bad things may happen to them in the future. These thoughts may range from feeling embarrassed or awkward to thinking death is inevitable. Examples of these thoughts include feeling like you will faint, have a stroke or heart attack, or you will stop breathing or lose control.
Even physical symptoms can be interpreted to mean something bad will happen in the future. Treatment can help people to think differently about these symptoms and feelings, rather than letting them scare them, and to have more rational thoughts about them.
Psychological Support to Promote Safety Behaviours
When feeling threatened or unsafe, we attempt to shield ourselves from potential harm by engaging in certain behaviours. These are known as safety behaviours and can be both active and passive. We use them to cope with physical sensations and to prevent what we fear might happen. For example, if we fear a panic attack, we might avoid certain situations or people or actively try to focus on our breathing.
Hypervigilance is a behaviour whereby an individual constantly looks out for and monitors their body and any physical sensations they may experience. The fear of having a medical issue can lead to avoidance of certain activities, sensations, and situations. This may provide some temporary relief, but it perpetuates the panic cycle.
For example, feeling breathless may be misinterpreted as a sign of a heart condition, prompting the individual to avoid strenuous activity whenever they become short of breath. However, if it has been medically confirmed that the person has no heart condition, then breathlessness is not harmful, and they can safely engage in physical activity.
Psychological Support to Treat Avoidance Tendencies
Avoidance prevents you from overcoming your fear and anxiety. When you avoid things that make you feel anxious, you miss out on learning how to cope with uncomfortable situations, which makes it harder to gain confidence. Avoidance also prevents you from challenging your thoughts about potential dangers and can worsen your symptoms.
Treatment encourages you to gradually reduce your safety behaviours and take small steps towards facing the things that make you anxious. This can be difficult, but it is important to work on it slowly and make a plan together with your therapist. With treatment, your symptoms will become less severe and eventually disappear.
Experiencing a panic attack does not necessarily indicate severe mental health issues or an imminent physical risk. Our body's mental and behavioural reaction to physical symptoms continues the cycle of panic. Therapy focuses on modifying your ideas about the source of these signs and worries about what could occur after they have commenced. It is possible to treat your panic attacks over a brief time effectively, and it is absolutely worth the effort.
Blue Sky Wellness Clinic is a boutique counselling practice located in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers holistic counselling services both virtually and in person. We specialize in treating trauma, codependency, grief, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, relationship issues, workplace challenges and more. We serve any individual from any background and varying socio-economic contexts. If you need in-person counselling in Vancouver, get in touch with us today! Book in for a free consultation!