The Truth About Panic Disorders

Nicole Steldtby Nicole Steldt, Social Worker at Southwest Behavioral Services



What is a Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States. Approximately 40 million adults in the United States are living with anxiety, which causes them to have excessive fear in situations that are non- threatening. There are different types of anxiety disorders. This will focus specifically on panic disorders.

Approximately 6 million American adults living in the United States suffer from panic disorder. It is more common among women than men. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of terror. It’s different from normal fear and reactions to stressful events. These attacks can come on suddenly without any warning and are very intense. The attacks can last for minutes or up to hours and can even happen when people sleep. Physical symptoms during these attacks often occur. For example an individual having a panic attack may experience a pounding heart, tingling or numb hands, faintness, weakness, sweating or chills, nausea, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

What does it feel like to live with a Panic Disorder?

Panic attacks create a fear of losing control, terror, and death. People with this disorder can feel detached from reality. If left untreated an individual might isolate themselves and avoid everyday activities. They may even avoid going out of their comfort zone thus missing opportunities. It’s not worth it! It is important for you to know if you feel this way, there is help out there for you. Don’t let panic disorder control you, because you can control it!

What can you do?

The first step is to get an assessment from a mental health provider. If you do have panic disorder, there are treatment options available to you.  Medications and psychotherapy can help to treat this disorder. Cognitive psychotherapy is one of the most effective types of therapy as it can help change how you think, and ultimately eliminate the fear and anxiety.

Developing coping skills to reduce anxiety

Easy coping skills like deep breathing can help reduce anxiety. This is also helpful because when people get anxious they take short shallow breaths, which can make symptoms worse. Give these two steps a try:

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose (for 2 counts) and feel your stomach and feel your abdomen expand.
  2. Next put your lips in the position as if you are going to blow out a candle. Then slowly exhale and count to four.

Do you notice the difference? Practice makes perfect! Eventually this will seem more natural. You can do this in the morning, evening, and when you start to feel anxious. It CAN help!

Regular exercise can also help reduce anxiety. If you haven’t exercised in a while you don’t have start by signing up for a marathon. Start slow and add additional activity at your comfort level. If you have a medical condition you should always consult your physician before you start any exercise routine. A physical trainer can also help you develop a healthy exercise routine. Any activity is helpful.

One of my favorite coping thoughts is, “This is just a feeling, it will go away!” It is true, it will go away. It may not feel like it but it will. Try these steps to help put your panic disorder in its place.


For additional support and treatment options contact Southwest Behavioral Services at (608) 348-3656 or stop by our Park Place campus at 1185 North Elm Street in Platteville.


adapted from: National Institute for Mental Illness and NAMI: National Alliance for Mental Illness

Comments are closed.