It is not uncommon for different types of anxiety disorders and panic attacks to co-occur. Individuals diagnosed with panic attacks or panic disorder have intense, unexpected and recurring panic attacks of fear that may last up to a few minutes, but may seem longer. These intense episodes of fear typically pass in 5 to 10 minutes. These episodes are called panic attacks. People with panic attacks may be afraid of losing control, dying or other catastrophic disaster, typically when no objective danger exists.. Physical reactions also occur during panic attacks. These may include heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath and faintness and these symptoms may be mis-interpreted as having a heart attack. People who experience panic attacks come to live in dread and fear the of the next panic attack. This, of course, exacerbates the heightened state of fear, which strengthens a vicious cycle. The person suffering from panic attacks will develop very intense fearful anxiety waiting for the next episode of panic to occur.
Common Co-occurring Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be very debilitating. In addition to the panic attacks themselves, people often develop other co-occurring disorders that accompany their panic attacks.
Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks: Simple Phobias Including Agoraphobia
Those suffering from panic disorder commonly develop irrational fears. These are usually of certain specific events or situations they might find themselves in that they think may possibly lead to a panic attack. These become phobias and run the gamut of a fear of places or situations, such as flying, driving, elevators, heights, going across a bridge, etc. As their panic attacks become more frequent, they begin to stay away from situations or places that may trigger another attack and gradually panic can reduce one’s life.
The avoidance of certain places can generalize into full-blown agoraphobia, which is the fear of going outside known surroundings where they feel safe. Just the thought of leaving the safety of their home, for example, can bring on intense anxiety and fear. The treatment for these irrational fears is done with Exposure Therapy, which is gradual and repeated exposure to the feared situation. During this exposure specific techniques are practiced so that the patient becomes desensitized to them over time.
Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks: Social Phobias
Social phobia develops when someone dreads being around people who they perceive may be judging them. They are afraid of being judged, looked down upon, embarrassed or humiliated and therefore prefer to avoid all social situations.
The best treatment for social phobia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or medication and preferably both.
Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks: Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
When someone has Obsessive-compulsive Disorder they suffer from having repetitive patterns of thoughts and behaviors, such as hand washing, double checking actions, counting, etc. They are distressed by this, but find it very hard if not impossible to stop. What occupies most of their time is the performance of their rituals, like checking to make sure the doors are locked or trying to prevent something fearful or dangerous from happening. They may be overly concerned with cleanliness and constantly wash their hands. These habits and rituals must be performed or they can’t be comfortable and if untreated these rituals can literally take over their lives. Just as with panic disorder, OCD is able to be treated with medication or psychotherapy, but preferably both.
If you or a loved one is experiencing panic attacks, phobias, OCD, PTSD or other severe anxiety symptoms, please give us a call!