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What qualifies as panic disorder? Does having a panic attack mean you have panic disorder? What does a panic attack feel like? Dr. Stephanie Eken, MD, Rogers’ regional medical director and child and adolescent psychiatrist, addresses these common questions.
If you have a panic attack, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have panic disorder.
“Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where people have repeated, unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden rushes of fear. These attacks can come out of nowhere and there’s not really a source for the fear,” explains Dr. Eken. “A panic attack that is caused by stress or a significant life change and happens two or three times isn’t necessarily considered panic disorder; it’s only if the attacks happen over and over again.”
People struggling with panic disorder are fearful that a panic attack will happen again without warning.
“They’ll start trying to avoid a place where they’ve had panic attacks previously because they feel embarrassed or worried it will happen again,” adds Dr. Eken. “This leads to avoidance and not addressing the root of the disorder.”
During a panic attack, a person could experience:
It’s important for people who struggle to know that there is hope—that help is available,” says Dr. Eken.
The core of Rogers’ treatment for panic disorder is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). “Through CBT we teach skills that will help our patients manage their feelings and emotions that are displayed when having a panic attack. Some people may feel short of breath. When someone feels that coming on, there are interventions that can be practiced to prevent the episode from becoming a full-blown panic attack.”
A grounding technique is a type of intervention that helps bring you back to the here-and-now and connect you to your current environment, calming the mind by using your five senses. Some examples include breathing exercises to slow down hyperventilation, engaging your five senses by looking for certain colors in the room, listening for things in the room, or touching something that has texture or smoothness.
“Many describe the feeling when they’re having a panic attack as if they’re floating and looking down on what’s happening to them. What’s happening is your body is having an inappropriate reaction in that moment, so we want to help shut down the part of your nervous system that is causing that reaction with interventions like these grounding techniques.”
For more information on panic disorder treatment at Rogers, click here. If you’re concerned you or someone you know could be struggling, call us at 800-767-4411 for a free, confidential screening, or request one online.
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