Frequently Asked Questions
How Common is Panic Disorder?
Between four and six million American adults will have panic disorder at some point in their lives. Panic disorder usually begins in young adulthood, but can happen earlier or later in life.
What Are the Consequences of panic disorder?
If untreated, panic disorder can have significant consequences. The distress of a panic attack — where there is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear without warning and without any obvious reason — can rob a person of their quality of life. The anticipation of the next panic attack can be disabling if the person begins to avoid situations for fear of another attack. In addition, recent studies have shown that people who suffer from panic disorder:
- are more prone to alcohol and other drug abuse
- have greater risk of attempting suicide
- spend less time on hobbies, sports and other satisfying activities
- tend to be financially dependent on others
- are afraid of driving more than a few miles from home
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for panic disorder that can often eliminate symptoms and promote an uncompromised quality of life.
What Causes Panic Disorder?
There appears to be a (mild) genetic predisposition to all anxiety disorders. The specific causes of panic disorder are unknown. We do know that, for people who develop panic disorder, the mechanism in the brain that alerts them to potential danger in the environment misfires resulting in a panic attack. A person having a panic attack experiences this “false alarm” and feels as if his life is truly in jeopardy.
How Can Panic Disorder be Treated?
Research has demonstrated that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for panic disorder.
There are four components to effective treatment:
- Education. It is helpful to learn what a panic disorder is, the triggers to panic
and the factors that maintain the suffering.
- Cognitive restructuring (changing one’s way of thinking). Fearful thoughts about panic sensations (e.g. “I will lose control”, “I will have a heart attack”) are identified, challenged and replaced with more realistic thinking.
- Interoceptive exposure. You and your therapist will develop a plan to gradually expose you to the sensations associated with panic. Facing these sensations with more realistic thinking demonstrates they are not dangerous and breaks cycle of escalating anxiety.
- Invivo exposure (overcoming avoidance of situations associated with panic). You and your therapist will work on approaching feared situation (starting with easy ones and working up to hard ones) and staying in them until your fears disconfirmed.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
The empirically supported treatment program for panic disorder offered at the Center often leads to noticeable improvement within about 10-15 sessions. Much of the success in treatment depends on the client’s willingness to follow the multi-faceted treatment plan. In order to secure a more detailed understanding of the treatment, consider ordering Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic: Client Manual.