panic attack

Panic Attacks vs. Panic Disorder: What’s the Difference?

They can come out of nowhere and bring symptoms such as intense fear, sweating, shaking, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations and a feeling of being out of control. They’re panic attacks, and if you have ever had one, you may already be familiar with how uncomfortable they can be. In severe cases, you might even wonder if you’re going to die. 

Panic attacks are more common than you might think. One in 10 Americans experiences the severe emotional turmoil of a panic attack every year. For many people, a panic attack is a rare event. For others, however, the occasional panic attack might escalate into the next level, which is called panic disorder. 

What Is Panic Disorder?

Instead of bringing about relief, the aftermath of a panic attack can leave you feeling confused, helpless and, above all else, worried that you’ll experience another one. To meet the criteria for panic disorder, you have to have had multiple panic attacks, leading to a consistent fear that you will suffer more such attacks in the future. 

For many people, panic disorder becomes detrimental to their daily lives when it prevents them from being able to participate in normal activities. For example, if you had a panic attack at the gym, you might now fear exercising because you are afraid it will spark another attack. 

Some people become so terrified of having additional panic attacks, especially in public settings, that they develop a potentially debilitating condition called agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia lead markedly restricted lives because they are worried about leaving their homes. If you have agoraphobia, you may get anxious in any setting you don’t control, such as a crowded place or when riding public transit. 

Is There a Treatment for Panic Disorder?

If you have panic disorder, the good news is that you can get your life back to normal. The most common type of evidence-based treatment for addressing panic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. The goal of CBT is to restructure your thought processes and teach you how to be more resilient in your response to negativity.   

CBT is an excellent option for anyone who is looking for rapid results with their treatment program. Because CBT is so effective, most people can gain the necessary tools to stop their recurring panic attacks and accompanying fears within no more than 20 sessions. 

During CBT, you will work with your therapist to address the root causes of your panic, anxiety and fear. You will also learn how behavioral feedback loops keep the emotions and sensations you experience at overly high levels. Eventually, your goal will be to break out of these patterns and form new, healthy ones. Outside of your regular therapy sessions, you will need to monitor your mood and identify any situations that make you feel anxious or panicky. 

Because panic attacks are so scary, and anxiety can be so deceptive, keeping track of your emotional ups and downs will help you become a more accurate observer of your mental state. Your therapist will also teach you constructive ways to cope with anxiety-triggering situations by exposing you to circumstances you have avoided since your panic attacks began. Doing so will eventually help you realize that those scary situations are not as threatening as you believed them to be. Eventually, you’ll become desensitized to the sensations, and they will no longer provoke fear and panic.  

Know When It’s Time to Make a Change

At Serene Behavioral Health, we know life’s challenges can add up until they feel like an unbearable burden. We offer treatments that help take those problems off your shoulders. A promising new life awaits you through improved emotional and psychological well-being. Contact us today to learn more. 

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