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About Panic Disorder (PD)

Panic Disorder (PD) affects approximately 3% of Australians adults. People with panic disorder have excessive fear of having panic attacks and often worry the panic attack means they are going to die or lose control. During a panic attack people experience sudden and strong physical symptoms including a racing heart, hyperventilation, shaking, upset stomach and thoughts of losing control, going crazy, having a heart attack or dying.

People with panic disorder often also have agoraphobia, which is when they avoid situations because of their concerns that they will suffer a panic attack.

"Penny is terrified of panic attacks. These are brief episodes where her heart races, she feels dizzy and lightheaded, feels ‘unreal’, and worries that she is about to have a heart attack or go insane. She now avoids places where she has previously had a panic attack, or only goes to them when accompanied by a friend or family member."

What Are the Symptoms of PD?

A panic attack is an episode that usually only lasts for 10 minutes. But, they can and often feel like they last much longer! People who have panic attacks often describe having specific symptoms but generally the symptoms of panic attacks include: a racing heart, sweating, rapid breathing or hyperventilation, feeling dizzy, having an upset stomach, feeling lightheaded, feeling physically unwell, feeling afraid and worrying about collapsing or suffering a medical emergency (like a heart attack). Panic attacks can be terrifying experiences!

So, it's easy to see why people who have panic attacks often start to avoid places where they might have a panic attack and where they might also have difficulty getting help.

The symptoms of panic attacks and panic disorder fall into 3 main categories:

  • Physical Symptoms: these include a racing heart, sweating, rapid breathing (or hyperventilation), feeling dizzy, having an upset stomach, feeling lightheaded, feeling physically unwell and feeling afraid.
  • Worrying and negative thoughts: these include thoughts like “I'm going to lose control", “I’m going to collapse or die", “I can't cope”, and so on. These types of symptoms often lead to low self esteem and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and sometimes to depression.
  • Unhelpful Behaviours: people with panic often avoid doing activities or going to places they used to. So, they may avoid going out to see friends, going shopping, going to the supermarket or bank or even going to work. This condition is called Agoraphobia

Treatment of Panic Disorder

The good news is that Panic Disorder is treatable. The best treatments involve:

(a) Learning about panic attacks and panic disorder, the symptoms and how they interact.
(b) Learning practical, proven, skills for controlling symptoms and gradually practicing going into situations you fear (i.e., to teaching yourself that you can manage those situations).

You can talk to your General Practitioner about getting a referral to an experienced mental health professional or another mental health professional to learn to manage your panic attacks. Or, you can try our Wellbeing Course.

The Wellbeing Course