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What is Panic Disorder?

A man struggling with panic disorder

Understanding the Impact of a Common Yet Misunderstood Condition


Panic disorder is a mental health condition that is often misunderstood and underestimated. It's more than just feeling anxious or stressed; it's a chronic condition that can significantly impact a person's daily life. This article aims to shed light on what panic disorder is, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and ways to manage it effectively.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. These are intense periods of fear or discomfort that reach a peak within minutes. During a panic attack, individuals might experience heart palpitations, derealisation, depersonalisation, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a feeling of impending doom, or fear of losing control.

Josh's Thoughts on Panic Disorder

"You know you have panic disorder when you develop a fear of anxiety itself. People with panic disorder will fear the next panic attack and try to change their life to prevent another one from happening. This often leads to agoraphobia. They will constantly monitor for signs of anxiety and seek reassurance from various sources. They may be constantly searching for information online, visiting the doctor, and thinking that they have something seriously wrong with them.


Some of the most common thoughts associated with panic disorder include "What if I go crazy?" "What if I have a heart attack?" or "What if I suddenly collapse?" You know you have panic disorder when you automatically assume the worst case scenario of your anxious symptoms.


It's a very difficult place to be in, and it's somewhere I've been in the past. My panic attacks used to be triggered by symptoms like derealization, a feeling of detachment, as well as when my heart would skip a beat or I couldn't catch my breath. Thankfully, after working on the fear of anxiety itself, I no longer fear having panic attacks, but I do remember how scary it felt."

Symptoms and Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with panic disorder, an individual must have experienced repeated panic attacks followed by at least one month of persistent worry about having more attacks or changes in behavior to avoid them. Panic attacks are not predictable, and they can occur without a trigger, making them more alarming.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of panic disorder is unknown, but a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and physiological factors are believed to play a role. Family history of panic disorder, significant stress, traumatic events, and changes in brain function are considered potential risk factors.

Treatment and Management

Treatment for panic disorder often involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective, as it helps change thought patterns and behaviors that trigger panic attacks. Psychoeducation is crucial in managing panic disorder. 

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