Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms (2023)

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms (1)

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Do you sometimes have sudden attacks of anxiety and overwhelming fear that last for several minutes? Maybe your heart pounds, you sweat, and you feel like you can’t breathe or think clearly. Do these attacks occur at unpredictable times with no apparent trigger, causing you to worry about the possibility of having another one at any time?

An untreated panic disorder can affect your quality of life and lead to difficulties at work or school. The good news is panic disorder is treatable. Learn more about the symptoms of panic disorder and how to find help.

What is panic disorder?

People with panic disorder have frequent and unexpected panic attacks. These attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder.

Panic attacks often include physical symptoms that might feel like a heart attack, such as trembling, tingling, or rapid heart rate. Panic attacks can occur at any time. Many people with panic disorder worry about the possibility of having another attack and may significantly change their life to avoid having another attack. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.

(Video) When Fear Overwhelms You: Panic Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder

Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. Women are more likely than men to develop panic disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of panic disorder?

People with panic disorder may have:

  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
  • An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
  • Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as:
    • Pounding or racing heart
    • Sweating
    • Chills
    • Trembling
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Weakness or dizziness
    • Tingly or numb hands
    • Chest pain
    • Stomach pain or nausea

What causes panic disorder?

Panic disorder sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some family members have it while others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain and certain biological processes may play a crucial role in fear and anxiety. Some researchers think panic attacks are like “false alarms” where our body’s typical survival instincts are active either too often, too strongly, or some combination of the two. For example, someone with panic disorder might feel their heart pounding and assume they’re having a heart attack. This may lead to a vicious cycle, causing a person to experience panic attacks seemingly out of the blue, the central feature of panic disorder. Researchers are studying how the brain and body interact in people with panic disorder to create more specialized treatments. In addition, researchers are looking at the ways stress and environmental factors play a role in the disorder.

How is panic disorder treated?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of panic disorder, talk to a health care provider. After discussing your history, a health care provider may conduct a physical exam to ensure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. A health care provider may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker. The first step to effective treatment is to get a diagnosis, usually from a mental health professional.

Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy (sometimes called “talk therapy”), medication, or both. Speak with a health care provider about the best treatment for you.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a research-supported type of psychotherapy, is commonly used to treat panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that happen during or before a panic attack. The attacks can become less frequent once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear during a panic attack.

(Video) PANIC DISORDER When FEAR overwhelms

Exposure therapy is a common CBT method that focuses on confronting the fears and beliefs associated with panic disorder to help you engage in activities you have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises.

For more information on psychotherapy, visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) psychotherapies webpage.

Medication

Health care providers may prescribe medication to treat panic disorder. Different types of medication can be effective, including:

  • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines

SSRI and SNRI antidepressants are commonly used to treat depression, but they also can help treat the symptoms of panic disorder. They may take several weeks to start working. These medications also may cause side effects, such as headaches, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. These side effects are usually not severe, especially if the dose starts off low and is increased slowly over time. Talk to your health care provider about any side effects that you may experience.

Beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and tremors. Although health care providers do not commonly prescribe beta-blockers for panic disorder, the medication may be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.

Benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety sedative medications, can be very effective in rapidly decreasing panic attack symptoms. However, some people build up a tolerance to these medications and need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Some people even become dependent on them. Therefore, a health care provider may prescribe them only for brief periods of time if you need them.

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Both psychotherapy and medication can take some time to work. Many people try more than one medication before finding the best one for them. A health care provider can work with you to find the best medication, dose, and duration of treatment for you. A healthy lifestyle also can help combat panic disorder. Make sure to get enough sleep and exercise, eat a healthy diet, and turn to family and friends who you trust for support. To learn more ways to take care of your mental health, visit NIMH’s Caring for Your Mental Health webpage.

For more information about medications used to treat panic disorder, visit NIMH’s Mental Health Medications webpage. Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website for the latest warnings, patient medication guides, and information on newly approved medications.

How can I support myself and others with panic disorder?

Educate Yourself

A good way to help yourself or a loved one who may be struggling with panic attacks or panic disorder is to seek information. Research the warning signs, learn about treatment options, and keep up to date with current research.

Communicate

If you are experiencing panic disorder symptoms, have an honest conversation about how you’re feeling with someone you trust. If you think that a friend or family member may be struggling with panic disorder, set aside a time to talk with them to express your concern and reassure them of your support.

Know When to Seek Help

If your anxiety, or the anxiety of a loved one, starts to cause problems in everyday life—such as at school, at work, or with friends and family—it’s time to seek professional help. Talk to a health care provider about your mental health.

Are there clinical trials studying panic disorder?

NIMH supports a wide range of research, including clinical trials that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions—including panic disorder. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

(Video) Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct clinical trials with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to a health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information, visit NIMH's clinical trials webpage.

Finding Help

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator

This online resource, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), helps you locate mental health treatment facilities and programs. Find a facility in your state by searching SAMHSA’s online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. For additional resources, visit NIMH's Help for Mental Illnesses webpage.

Talking to a Health Care Provider About Your Mental Health

Communicating well with a health care provider can improve your care and help you both make good choices about your health. Find tips to help prepare for and get the most out of your visit at Taking Control of Your Mental Health: Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider. For additional resources, including questions to ask a provider, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website.

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Reprints

This publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from NIMH. We encourage you to reproduce and use NIMH publications in your efforts to improve public health. If you do use our materials, we request that you cite the National Institute of Mental Health. To learn more about using NIMH publications, please contact the NIMH Information Resource Center at1-866‑615‑6464, email nimhinfo@nih.gov, or refer to NIMH’s reprint guidelines.

For More Information

MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine) (en español)

(Video) Panic Disorder : When Fear Overwhelms

ClinicalTrials.gov (en español)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
National Institutes of Health
NIH Publication No. 22-MH-8077
Revised 2022

FAQs

Can panic attacks be triggered by fear? ›

Panic is the most severe form of anxiety. You may start to avoid certain situations because you fear they'll trigger another attack. This can create a cycle of living "in fear of fear". It can add to your sense of panic and may cause you to have more attacks.

What is enochlophobia? ›

Noun. enochlophobia (uncountable) (rare) Fear of crowds.

What causes overwhelming fear? ›

A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances. Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

What causes enochlophobia? ›

There's no single known cause of enochlophobia; rather, it might be connected to crowd-related trauma, a tendency to worry, or even genetic factors. The important thing is that this phobia can have a severely limiting effect on your life, since crowds are very much a part of life today.

What are the 4 different types of panic disorders? ›

Panic disorders are often classified into six types, including anxiety disorders, phobias and more.
  • Panic Disorder (Characterized by Anxiety or Panic Attacks) ...
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) ...
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) ...
  • Phobias. ...
  • Social Anxiety Disorder. ...
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What are 3 types of panic attacks? ›

Multidimensional scaling (MDS) of panic symptoms identified three types of panic which were consistent over time and for which reliable scales were constructed to measure derealization, cardiac panic, and respiratory panic.

What is a Deipnophobia? ›

Deipnophobia is a type of social anxiety disorder wherein the individual feels anxious while dining in public or engaging in dinner conversations.

What does Frigophobia mean? ›

Abstract. Frigophobia is a condition in which patients report coldness of extremities leading to a morbid fear of death. It has been reported as a rare culture-related psychiatric syndrome in Chinese populations.

What does Deipnophobia mean? ›

deipnophobia (uncountable) (rare) A fear of banquets or dinner parties.

How do you deal with overwhelming fear? ›

10 ways to fight your fears
  1. Take time out. It's impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. ...
  2. Breathe through panic. ...
  3. Face your fears. ...
  4. Imagine the worst. ...
  5. Look at the evidence. ...
  6. Don't try to be perfect. ...
  7. Visualise a happy place. ...
  8. Talk about it.
Jan 4, 2023

What to do when you are overwhelmed by fear? ›

Slowing down and stopping can be as simple as taking some deep breathes. If worry is an experience of being “strangled,” the antidote is to breathe. Try using a breathing bubble such as this, try box breathing or simply place your hands on your belly and breathe into them.

Is extreme fear a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition. Anxiety makes it difficult to get through your day. Symptoms include feelings of nervousness, panic and fear as well as sweating and a rapid heartbeat. Treatments include medications and cognitive behavioral therapy.

What is Somniphobia? ›

A note from Cleveland Clinic. Somniphobia is the intense fear of sleep. People with this phobia may be afraid of having nightmares, experiencing sleep paralysis or dying in their sleep. Often, people who have somniphobia try to avoid going to sleep for as long as possible.

What triggers Amaxophobia? ›

Amaxophobia triggers include: Driving a vehicle. Riding in a vehicle. Imagining yourself inside a vehicle. Seeing a vehicle in person or on TV.

Why do I have Athazagoraphobia? ›

Athazagoraphobia is a fear of forgetting someone or something, as well as a fear of being forgotten. For example, you or someone close to you may have anxiety or fear of developing Alzheimer's disease or memory loss. This might come from caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

What is the most common comorbidity with panic disorder? ›

Lifetime prevalence rates of major depression in panic disorder may be as high as 50-60%. Other psychiatric disorders that occur comorbidity with panic disorder include schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, social phobia, and agoraphobia.

What are 2 signs of a panic disorder? ›

What are the signs and symptoms of panic disorder?
  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear.
  • A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack.
  • An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen.

What is derealization? ›

Derealization symptoms

Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall. Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings.

Are there different levels of panic disorder? ›

The characteristics of each type are as follows; type I: a single panic attack is the only symptom, type II: only panic attacks occur frequently without any accompanying neurotic or depressive symptoms, type III: a recurrence of panic attacks and the gradual development of neurotic symptoms, such as anticipatory ...

What is the difference between panic disorder and anxiety disorder? ›

People often use the terms interchangeably, however, the two are different. Anxiety is characterized by excessive thoughts and feelings of irrational fear and worry, whereas a panic disorder is characterized by episodes of panic attacks, which are accompanied by physical symptoms.

What is a Mageirocophobia? ›

Mageirocophobia occurs when you're fearful of cooking or the idea of cooking. You may experience intense anxiety or go out of your way to avoid cooking. For many people, this phobia stems from not wanting to make mistakes. Appointments 866.588.2264. Request an Appointment.

Do I have Pteronarcophobia? ›

People with pteronarcophobia may experience a sense of losing control or impending doom upon encountering flies. They may feel their throat tighten and their breathing become more labored. A racing heartbeat, sweating palms, dizziness and nausea are common for people encountering the subject of their fear.

Do I have Samhainophobia? ›

What does a person with samhainophobia fear? Someone with samhainophobia may be afraid of: Children wearing costumes and makeup while trick-or-treating. Halloween traditions, especially being scared or startled, such as at costume parties and haunted houses or with ghost stories.

What is aviophobia? ›

Fear of flying is called aviophobia or aerophobia. Fear of getting on a plane can be a heritage from childhood or it can emerge from adulthood as a result of various triggering factors.

What is Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia mean? ›

Noun. hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (uncountable) (humorous) The fear of long words.

What does Abibliophobia mean? ›

Noun. abibliophobia (uncountable) (humorous) Fear of running out of things to read.

What fear is Pteromerhanophobia? ›

by the above phobia, or are currently in a state of panic that you may well suffer from it unknowingly, it is better known as aerophobia or aviophobia. In plain English (pun intended), it is known as fear of flying.

What does lepidopterophobia mean? ›

lepidopterophobia (uncountable) An abnormal or irrational fear of butterflies. synonym ▲hypernym ▼ Synonym: mottephobia.

How common is Mageirocophobia? ›

Mageirocophobia is extremely common, although it is only considered a phobia when it is severe enough to interfere with daily life.

What does ADHD overwhelm feel like? ›

Becoming easily overwhelmed and distracted can sometimes be hallmark symptoms of ADHD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, people with ADHD might experience symptoms like: restlessness. difficulty focusing.

What does overwhelming anxiety feel like? ›

Often, overwhelm is as uncomfortable as it is uncontrollable. It rears its head as anxiety, anger, or significant irritability and worry. Doubt and helplessness also make their way into a person's normal thought process. Physically, it can manifest when a person lashes out verbally, cries, or has a panic attack.

What is the most difficult mental illness to live with? ›

BPD is considered to be one of the most serious mental illnesses, as it causes a great deal of suffering and has a high-risk for suicide.”

Can fear leads to psychosis? ›

It is possible for anxiety to lead to psychosis symptoms when a person's anxiety is particularly severe. However, such an instance of psychosis is different from an actual psychotic disorder in the cause and treatment approaches.

Is fear part of bipolar? ›

5 Other studies4,6 have shown that patients with bipolar disorder have amygdala hyperactivation while processing fearful faces. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first case in which the experience of fearfulness may be associated with manic decompensation.

Can panic attacks be triggered by thoughts? ›

Panic is the most acute form of anxiety.

Instead, the concurrent mental and physical symptoms of a panic attack occur in response to a buildup of anxious thoughts.

What is the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks? ›

Panic and anxiety attacks both cause a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, and a sense of distress. However, they typically differ in severity and cause. Panic attacks are often more intense and can occur with or without a trigger, while anxiety attacks are a response to a perceived threat.

Where do random panic attacks come from? ›

It is not yet known what causes panic attacks but certain factors may play an important role, including genetics, mental health conditions, major stress or having a predisposition to stress. Panic attacks are typically experienced as a result of misinterpreting physical symptoms of anxiety.

How do I control my fear and panic attacks? ›

10 ways to fight your fears
  1. Take time out. It's impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. ...
  2. Breathe through panic. ...
  3. Face your fears. ...
  4. Imagine the worst. ...
  5. Look at the evidence. ...
  6. Don't try to be perfect. ...
  7. Visualise a happy place. ...
  8. Talk about it.
Jan 4, 2023

What meds are given for panic disorder? ›

SSRIs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of panic disorder include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) and sertraline (Zoloft). Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications are another class of antidepressants.

Are panic attacks a form of OCD? ›

The overlap between OCD and panic disorder can be confusing. Many OCD sufferers experience panic attacks or panic attack symptoms — sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts, dizziness, weakness in limbs, and so on. They may also feel like they're having an out-of-body experience. This is known as dissociation.

What happens to the brain during panic attacks? ›

Recently researchers have identified certain regions of the brain that become hyperactive during a panic attack. These regions include the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain, and parts of the midbrain that control a range of functions, including our experience of pain.

What are the signs of a mental breakdown? ›

The most common signs someone is having a mental breakdown are:
  • Hopelessness.
  • Thoughts of suicide.
  • Sense of worthlessness.
  • Unable to sleep.
  • Lacking appetite.
  • Inability to focus.
  • Severe disappointment with their life.
Feb 11, 2022

What is a nervous breakdown? ›

The term "nervous breakdown" is sometimes used by people to describe a stressful situation in which they're temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It's commonly understood to occur when life's demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming.

Is it normal to have panic attacks everyday? ›

Panic attacks can occur at any time. Many people with panic disorder worry about the possibility of having another attack and may significantly change their life to avoid having another attack. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.

When should you be hospitalized for anxiety? ›

If it is an anxiety disorder on its own, the only reason for hospitalisation is for intensive treatment that can't be carried out as an out-patient. This is only necessary in the severest cases of OCD and related disorders.

Is a panic disorder a disability? ›

Anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorders, phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are considered disabilities by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and qualifies someone for Social Security disability benefits.

How do I stop panic attacks forever? ›

Can you prevent a panic attack?
  1. do breathing exercises every day.
  2. get regular exercise.
  3. follow a diet that is low in added sugar and eat regularly to avoid glucose spikes.
  4. avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol, as they may make anxiety worse.
  5. seek counseling and other professional help.
Oct 26, 2021

What is subconscious anxiety? ›

Subconscious anxiety is a type of anxiety that exists without your being fully aware of it. It often manifests as a persistent feeling of nervousness and discomfort, which isn't connected to anything specific or identifiable.

Why do I worry so much about everything? ›

Are you always waiting for disaster to strike or excessively worried about things such as health, money, family, work, or school? If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD can make daily life feel like a constant state of worry, fear, and dread.

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