People with panic disorder typically find that it manifests in the form of panic attacks, accompanied by anxiety in between panic attacks and fear of situations in which an attack previously occurred. For example, if an individual experiences a panic attack while driving, he or she might then develop a fear or phobia of driving, or find that panic attacks are more likely to occur while in the car; these are known as panic triggers. People with panic disorder often find that panic attacks cause shaking, a racing heart and trouble breathing, and a feeling of overwhelming fright or doom, as if something terrible is happening.
There are many people who may only ever have one or two panic attacks in life, often due to a particularly stressful situation. There are also a number of people with panic disorder, however, who find that panic attacks become a regular occurrence and can begin to impact daily life. When this begins to happen, it is important to visit a mental health professional, who may be able to offer strategies for treatment. These may include medication, specific coping mechanisms, and talk therapy to deal with specific phobias or triggers, among others. Though treatment will take time, many people with panic disorder find that it is very beneficial.
Because panic attacks are some of the most common characteristics of people with panic disorder, it is helpful to recognize what those symptoms are and to recognize that the panic attack, though scary, cannot actually cause any damage. Typically, the heart begins to race and breathing becomes more shallow. People will often feel shaky and unsteady, and may feel as if they are flushed or getting chills, often causing a cold sweat. Nausea also commonly accompanies a panic attack, causing people to fear having a heart attack or a stroke, but this is unlikely. A sense of doom tends to exacerbate the panic attack, though most do not last more than ten minutes.
Once a panic attack occurs, people with panic disorder will naturally become fearful of having another one. This can lead to increased anxiety in daily life and avoidance of certain situations where the panic occurred, in addition to social situations, which can quickly worsen the panic disorder. The persistent anxiety makes it more likely that more panic attacks will occur, and the cycle continues. For these reasons, it is important to address the panic, whether it has a specific cause or not, with a qualified professional who can help.