Panic attack vs. Panic disorder
Random panic attacks can be a common thing nowadays. It’s often a very unpleasant and frightening experience. There are several facts about panic attacks that are worth being aware of.
1. A panic attack is not (at all) dangerous
A panic attack itself can cause an extremely unpleasant sensation, but it is not dangerous to your health and it’s not fatal as long as it does not happen too often.
On the other hand, a panic attack brings up a real and unpleasant feeling in the body. The feeling of a panic attack spreads to the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the nervous system and other organs. If these panic attacks are regular, it can lead to a constant and huge amount of stress and the state of chronic anxiety and restlessness, such experienced regularly causing the effect of “wearing out” the body.
2. A panic attack does not last forever
Panic attacks usually do not last longer than an hour. The feeling of panicking passes because of two types of systems in the body — sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former "starts" the panic attack itself, and the latter "silences" it after a short period of time. If someone says an attack can last for a day or two, it's not a panic attack, but something else.
3. A panic attack is not the biggest problem that you might encounter
The anticipation of a panic attack is actually worse than it itself. Perhaps there were cases in your life when you experienced the rush of extremely strong anger or madness. The peak of negative emotions could last for several minutes or even an hour. Most likely, you've been thinking in those times about people or situations which caused you to have such a strong emotional response.
The same goes for panicking — it is just the peaking of emotions, which is surely to pass. So why is the expectation of panic attack worse than the attack itself? Because, in essence, the fear of a future panic attack is a reason for its appearance in the first place. The more you fear it, the more likely it is to happen again.
4. Avoidance and preventive measures do not work
It is normal to want to avoid panic attacks or reduce its symptoms and effects at all costs. Therefore, people attempt various techniques that they think will work: breathing into a paper bag; Not entering large malls alone; Carrying various medications all the time, etc. It seems that it will most surely work. However, if you ask people with long-lasting panic disorders whether all these tricks work, to your surprise, they will likely respond with a “no”. Panic attacks still happen. Preventative measures work quite efficiently, however not as expected; they worsen the intensity of your future panic attacks and increase their likelihood.
5. You can never come to discover the cause of your panic attacks
However, it may be different for every individual. Your thoughts have a tremendous influence on the appearance and development of panic attacks. If you (in your own head) decide that panic is something abnormal and incredibly terrible, that is exactly how it will feel.
6. A constant check of whether "will the panicking begin" is harmful
Constant look-out for the cause of the panic attack only harms you and worsens your condition. You focus on the changes in your body or mood, and immediately the slightest changes are noticed. These changes are just the sign of normal functioning of the body or mind, and they will always be present simply because your body and your mind lives and works. Very often, these small changes of your condition will seem to be clear harbingers of a panic attack, which should be avoided to terminate the appearance of the panic attack.
What is a panic disorder?
According to the information from the US National Library of Medicine:
“Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger. You may feel as if you are losing control. You may also have physical symptoms, such as:
Chest or stomach pain
Weakness or dizziness
Feeling hot or a cold chill
Tingly or numb hands ”
Panic disorder is different from a simple panic attack in terms of the frequency and severity. It's typical to feel an increase in heart rate, have shorter, quickened breaths, experience excessive sweating and rushes of adrenaline during the panic attack. Chest pain and dizziness may make you feel like you are having a heart attack.
Panic disorder, besides the regular attack symptoms, can bring about a number of complications. The condition's key symptom is the chronic and frequent re-occurrence of panic attacks, which causes anxiety and fear of the next incident.
What is the relation between substance abuse and a panic disorder?
Panic and anxiety disorders often become involuntarily triggers of substance abuse through trying to mitigate or prevent the effects of panic attacks. Most often, drugs or alcohol use start serving as an ongoing escape tool. Around 10-40% of the affected individuals turn substance abuse into the so-called “self-medication habit”, resulting in the growth of addictions. Contrary to the popular opinion that drugs or alcohol can be of any help in the case of panic disorder, the use of those substances only worsens the already-existing condition. Panic or anxiety attacks become stronger and frequent, gradually requiring the growth in the amount of alcohol or drugs consumed in order to “loosen up” or temporarily get rid of symptoms. Moreover, withdrawals from alcohol or drugs can lead to severe panic attacks among a bunch of other physical and psychological complications.