What is panic disorder?
On average, one out of three young adults reports having had a panic attack in the last year.
During a panic attack, sensations such as sweating, nausea, trembling and numbness in the legs or hands, dizziness, hot or cold flashes, a feeling of tightness or pressure in the chest, hyperventilation, “jelly” legs, or blurred vision can develop. Individuals even may feel like they are going to die of a heart attack or lose control of their body functions.
These intense feelings of panic usually do not last for very long and most people brush off the episode as a momentary “freak out.” Some people become very agitated, however, and develop a fear of it happening again.
If an individual has more than four panic attacks within a month, or a panic attack occurs when the individual is not in an anxious or stressful situation, it is probable the individual has a panic disorder. Individuals who are susceptible to panic attacks are more likely to be concerned with illness, death, or losing control.
Panic disorders usually begin before the individual is 20-30 years old.
Other forms of anxiety disorders are as follows:
•Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is an anxiety reaction to a real or life-threatening traumatic event (i.e., a car accident, rape, or war).
Individuals with PTSD also may suffer from nightmares and insomnia, flashbacks, hypervigilance (always being on alert), irrational outbursts of anger, and depression.
People with generalized anxiety disorder often worry excessively about things that to others seem illogical.
Their bodies also react to an ongoing state of tension and anxiety. They may experience tightness and pain in their muscles, lack of concentration, shakiness, insomnia, irritability, and irritable feelings.
What are the treatments for anxiety disorders and phobias?
There has been a lot of progress in the understanding and diagnosis of the various forms of anxiety disorders. Treatment is specific to the severity of the disorder.
The most effective forms of therapy are based on cognitive and behavioral approaches. Individuals also may learn calming techniques and meditative therapy, and anti-depressant medication can be prescribed to help their anxiety.
In most cases, therapy will help the individual get better and lead a productive life.
Where can I get help?
If you or a loved one appears to be suffering from an anxiety disorder, you should contact your family physician, the Ontario Psychiatric Association, or the Freedom from Fear Foundation in Toronto, which is an organization established to help people with anxiety disorders.
They have a network of support groups set up throughout Ontario (call 1-416-761-6006).
For more information about services locally, contact your local Canadian Mental Health Association (274-2347).