You’re getting ready for your first day at a new job and, suddenly, you have a bout of anxiety and near-debilitating fear which lasts the whole car ride on your way to work. Your heart pounds, you perspire, and you have a sensation of not being able to breathe or think clearly. And now you begin to wonder: Have I had other similar attacks at unpredictable times with no apparent trigger, making me worry about having another one unexpectedly? If so, you may be experiencing panic disorder.
It’s an anxiety disorder known for unexpected and frequent instances of powerful fear paired with physical symptoms like abdominal distress, chest pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, or shortness of breath. Such episodes happen without warning or a known stressor.
Are There Risk Factors?
Most panic disorder symptoms begin during the teen years or early adulthood, but you may be susceptible based on certain risk factors:
- Your family history
- Major stressors, like the loss or grave sickness of a loved one
- Any number of traumatic events, like being robbed or surviving a serious accident
- Substantial changes in your life, like a broken marriage or having a baby
- Tobacco use or heavy caffeine intake
- History of childhood abuse
What Happens If Panic Disorder Is Left Untreated?
Panic disorder is like other mental health conditions because, if left untreated, it can lead to other problems:
- You could develop certain phobias, like being afraid of driving or leaving your house
- You see a healthcare provider frequently for health worries and other medical problems
- You avoid social settings
- Problems at school or work
- Depression or other anxiety or psychiatric disorders
- A higher risk of suicide or suicidal ideation
- Alcohol or other substance abuse
- Money woes
Panic Disorder and Its Causes
If you have a panic disorder, it’s not unusual to have symptoms like a fear of losing control, wanting to avoid a place where a previous attack happened, sweating, chills, trembling, problems breathing, weakness, dizziness, and many others. Treating each one may be possible with ketamine or other therapy, but successful intervention usually depends on understanding potential causes for your symptoms.
Panic disorder has a familial component, but we don’t know for certain why some family members have it and others don’t. Several parts of your brain, like the amygdala and biological processes, may have a key role in anxiety and fear and, as a result, could function as a trigger for panic disorder. There’s also the notion that panic attacks may be false alarms, where your body’s characteristic survival instincts are activated too often and too strongly, or a combination of both scenarios. For instance, if you have panic disorder, a fast, pounding heartbeat could be misinterpreted as a sign of a heart attack.
This could trigger a vicious cycle, making you experience panic attacks seemingly without warning – a calling card of panic disorder. The unique interaction between the brain and body in people with panic disorder may lead to more focused treatments, while other research investigates the role of stress and environmental factors in the disorder.
Panic disorders affect the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to perceived danger. They can casue your adrenaline levels to spike without warning, triggering a flight or fight response with attacks happening anywhere, anytime. These sudden, unexplained instances of anxiety can be extremely distressing, which can compound them, leading to a full blown panic attack.
Natural Ways to Treat Panic Disorder
Not everyone with panic disorder is willing to take medicine or try other therapy to manage its symptoms, but there are natural alternatives worth exploring.
- Staying physically active. Things as simple and stress-free as walking, a bike ride, or non-competitive dancing may help reduce panic and anxiety.
- Avoid consuming alcohol because there may be a link between alcohol use and the onset of anxiety and panic attacks.
- Quit using tobacco in any form. Tobacco is believed to increase the risk of panic and anxiety.
- Cut back on drinking caffeinated beverages.
- Don’t forget the benefits of sleep, as lack of it can worsen mental health disorders.
- Try meditation or mindfulness techniques.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Try deep breathing exercises.
- Aromatherapy might help.
- There is some evidence that herbal treatments might work, including kava, passionflower, valerian, lavender, and chamomile. Some studies have shown the positive effects of chamomile tea when treating patients with certain mental health disorders.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There isn’t a singular test to diagnose panic disorder. Still, your healthcare provider will look at your overall health, potential underlying health conditions, and symptoms to decide what’s happening in your case. Recommended treatment may include psychotherapy, medicine, or ketamine therapy.