Panic disorder is a major anxiety disorder, and is characterized by recurrent, frequent panic attacks that are random and sudden. Panic disorder is highly disruptive to your life, as it can rupture relationships, jobs, schooling, and your ability to take care of yourself. Panic attacks are discreet, random, and abrupt episodes of extreme anxiety and nervousness, characterized by:
- Chest pain
You may have chest pounding, heart palpitations, rapid heart beat.
- Shortness of breath
You may have difficulty breathing; catching your breath.
- Tingling and numbness of arms and legs
You may feel “pins and needles” in your arms and legs.
You may be sweating profusely.
Your muscles may become so tense and wound up that you are trembling.
You may feel dizzy and unsteady.
- Feeling like you are having a heart attack
You may have the feeling that you are experiencing an acute medical problem, such as a heart attack or asthma attack. You may have visited the emergency department due to thinking you were dying from a possible heart or asthma attack.
The panic attacks that occur in panic disorder only last a few minutes, and then it goes away. A panic attack typically does not last all day. A panic attack can wake you from sleep; it can occur while you are driving; it can occur when you are sitting down…basically, a panic attack is random in onset, and can erupt at any time.
A problem with panic disorder is that you may develop anticipatory anxiety- you may fear the coming of another future panic attack. When you have anticipatory anxiety, you spend endless amounts of time waiting and fretting over the next panic attack. You may watch the clock, as maybe you had your last one in the afternoon, so you look at your watch for the dreaded time in the afternoon when the last one occurred. You might avoid places that you have experience a panic attack- so when you have a panic attack in a different place, you add it to the list of places to avoid.
Soon, you may become home-bound and stuck at home, as you are so disabled from the anticipatory anxiety, or you just want to avoid places that you had a panic attack, which may be everywhere. This may culminate in developing agoraphobia with panic disorder…which is the fear of public places for fear of having a panic attack or fear of not being able to get help.