Panic Attacks, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks that seem to "come out of the blue." Panic
attacks are discrete periods of intense fear or discomfort that typically involve some of the following
symptoms: shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness or unsteadiness, chest pain, trembling or
shaking, sweating, feelings of unreality or detachment, tingling sensations, fears of dying, and fears of
going crazy or losing control. It is common for people who suffer from panic attacks to assume that they
are having a medical emergency and then be told by a physician that they do not have a medical
Often when people experience panic attacks they become fearful of situations that they associate with
having panic attacks or situations from which they might have difficulty escaping if they did have a
panic attack. Agoraphobia is the avoidance of situations or places from which escape might be diffi-
cult or help might be unavailable if a panic attack were to occur. Typical situations that people avoid
include driving (especially freeways, bridges, and tunnels), public transportation, crowds, stores,
estaurants, theaters, waiting in line, elevators, closed-in spaces, or being far from home.
Panic disorder and agoraphobia are highly treatable conditions. Cognitive-behavior" therapy, often in
conjunction with pharmacotherapy (medications), has been shown to be highly effective in the
treatment of these symptoms.
Cognitive-behavior therapy typically includes:
- Education about the nature of panic and anxiety. The more you know, the better
you'll be able to utilize cognitive-behavioral strategies to break the cycle of panic
- Monitoring of panic attacks and anxiety symptoms. Learning about your own
panic reactions, physically, cognitively, and behaviorally, will help you to start
taking control of your panic reactions.
- Learning coping statements and helpful self-talk to better handle the automatic
anxiety-provoking thoughts you have when you feel panic or high anxiety.