Panic disorder

A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being “stressed out” that most people experience.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing, feeling as though you “can’t get enough air”
  • Terror that is almost paralysing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • Trembling, sweating, shaking
  • Choking, chest pains
  • Hot flashes, or sudden chills
  • Tingling in fingers or toes (“pins and needles”)
  • Fear that you’re going to go crazy or are about to die

You probably recognise this as the classic “flight or fight” response that human beings experience when we are in a situation of danger. But during a panic attack, these symptoms can seem to rise from out of nowhere. They can occur in seemingly harmless situations–they can even happen while you are asleep.

In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is marked by the following conditions:

  • It usually occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
  • The level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it’s completely unrelated.
  • It passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the “fight or flight” response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

Many people experience occasional panic attacks, and if you have had one or two such attacks, there probably isn’t any reason to worry. The key symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks. If you suffer from repeated (four or more) panic attacks, and especially if you have had a panic attack and are in continued fear of having another, these are signs that you should consider finding a mental health professional who specialises in panic or anxiety disorders.

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