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Am I Having A Panic Attack? | Orlando Anxiety Specialists Share Info

Am I Having a Panic Attack?

As therapists who specialize in treating panic attacks in Orlando, we are often asked, “How do I know if I am having a panic attack”.

Here is an example: Lucy is a worrier and she often becomes anxious before a presentation at work or if she is going to a party where she doesn’t know too many people.  However, several weeks ago, while driving her car, she experienced intense anxiety that came on unexpectedly.  Lucy had trouble breathing, experienced chest pains, felt dizzy and began sweating. She had no idea what was happening, but managed to pull over on the side of the road. She called her husband who picked her up and took her to the ER.  Doctor’s examination revealed no medical conditions and all tests were negative; yet Lucy remained very shaken and upset by the experience and continued to feel unsure and anxious about what happened.  Unexpectedly, Lucy experienced the same physical sensations and feelings of terror and panic a week later, while she was at work.  These episodes occurred several other times during the next week.  Each time, she experienced intense physical symptoms that came on out of the blue and lasted about 15 minutes.  Lucy is now very worried about the next panic attack.  She avoids driving her car and stays home whenever possible, even if it means missing out on enjoyable activities with family and friends.  Lucy has developed panic disorder.

All panic disorders begin with a single panic attack.  This panic attack is followed by anxiety about having another panic attack, which is often followed by a cluster of more panic attacks.  Because the physical sensations of panic attacks are intensely uncomfortable, people with panic disorder feel extremely afraid of having another panic attack and begin to limit their activities to avoid situations that might trigger yet another panic attack.  Fear of extremely uncomfortable physical sensations is the primary concern for individuals with panic disorder.  These can include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Feelings of derealization or depersonalization
  • Breathing difficulties

The ultimate worry is that the panic attack will become so bad that they “won’t be able to handle it”, go crazy, lose control or that these physical symptoms will cause a heart attack, a stroke or some other devastating medical event.  Many individuals who experience panic attacks are convinced that there is something medically wrong with them.  They often submit to extensive medical tests and tend to be repeat visitors to the emergency room.

Panic disorder can become incapacitating and approximately one in three people with panic disorder go on to develop agoraphobia.  Agoraphobia is a condition in which the person is afraid of being in any situation where one feels trapped or help would be unavailable in the event another panic attack occurred. For example, many individuals with panic disorder avoid shopping malls, crowded auditoriums, bridges, tunnels, limited access highways and other situations where they might not be able to get out easily if they begin to have a panic attack.

Fortunately, panic attacks are very treatable with a type of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, experienced CBT therapists systematically address all three factors that work together to create panic disorder: unhelpful thoughts, physiological symptoms and behaviors that contribute to panic disorder.  If you are having recurring panic attacks that are interfering with the quality of your life and your ability to participate in activities you once enjoyed, consider reaching out to CBT therapists at GroundWork Counseling for further information and expert evidence-based treatment.

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