Panic disorder refers to a disorder whereby an individual experiences sudden and spontaneous attacks of anxiety and fear. The panic attacks lead to agoraphobia, which is the feeling of anxiety that one gets for the fear of being in situations where one cannot get help in case of a panic attack. These situations include, but not limited to, being in crowds, being left alone or being near bridges.
Clark’s theory of catastrophic interpretations
According to Clark’s theory, panic attacks are caused by faulty and maladaptive interpretations of the sensations within the body. For example, sensations that are normal to healthy individuals can be perceived as being dangerous than they are, and interpreted as an eminent catastrophe.
Factors such as trauma and heredity make someone vulnerable to the attacks. The theory also suggests that panic attacks could be triggered by the loss of a loved one, loss of job or severe stress, transition from one point in life into another and use of stimulants such as cocaine. The panic attacks are then sustained by anticipatory anxiety, where anxiety about panic attacks all the time instead of relaxing maintains the condition. Post-event processing also maintains panic attacks.
Symptoms of panic disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by symptoms that include:
- Trembling and shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and a feeling of dizziness
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Some of the common symptoms of agoraphobia include:
- Fear of death and disability; the feeling that one will have a heart attack and die or the feeling that one will get a stroke.
- Fear of going mad or losing control; the feeling that one will lose control and scream or the feeling that one is having a nervous breakdown.
- Fear of humiliation and embarrassment; this includes the feeling that other people will think something is wrong with you or the feeling that one will faint and embarrass themselves.
- Being afraid of staying alone.
For people who experience panic attacks, it is important to have a psychological and physical examination. Once that is done, it is also essential to carry out a medical examination in order to rule out medical issues such as heart attack, nervous breakdown and drug abuse.
According to Clark, treatment of panic disorders may involve may involve a combination of anti-depressants and cognitive-behavioral therapy or use of cognitive-behavioral therapy only. The main idea of therapy is identity the nature of one’s thoughts, the biases in those thoughts and how to treat those biased thoughts. Specific cognitive-behavioral therapy measures to treat panic disorder with agoraphobia include:
- Systematically engaging in exercises that induce the feared internal sensations such as increased heartbeat and dizziness.
- The exercises include spinning in a chair several times, staring a mirror for approximately one minute, running through the stairs, head-rolling for 30 seconds and rapid deep breathing (hyperventilation).
- Repeated exposure to such activities assures the individual that the sensations that one might have are normal. The aim is to accept the feelings that one might get and increase tolerance to such sensations.
- Prior to taking situational exposure exercises, it is essential to identify the behaviors and situations avoided. Exposure can start with the moderately feared situations, then gradually upgrade to the worst behaviors or situations avoided.
- With time, the individual manipulates his or self-image and safety behaviors, thus assisting to control systems that exaggerate social phobias.
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