Panic Disorder Therapy Online
What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder is a mental health condition defined by recurring, abrupt episodes of intense fear—known as panic attacks—that can strike unexpectedly, disrupting daily life. These episodes cause distressing physical and psychological symptoms, including a racing heart, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming sense of dread. These symptoms can be so severe that some people may fear they are having a heart attack or other serious medical condition.
Psychological symptoms during panic attacks may include a fear of losing control. Some individuals may experience derealization (feeling detached from reality) or depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself). Those most impacted by panic disorder are typically women, and it tends to emerge during late adolescence or early adulthood.
People with panic disorder often develop avoidance behaviours. They may avoid situations or places where they have previously had panic attacks for fear of experiencing another one. This can lead to limitations in daily activities and social interactions.
When to seek help for panic disorder?
Experiencing panic attacks can be distressing, but panic attacks themselves are not life-threatening. They can be incredibly uncomfortable and overwhelming, but they won’t directly harm you physically. However, when these episodes start to influence your day-to-day existence, it’s a sign that something more significant might be at play.
While it might seem like an insurmountable challenge, the symptoms of panic disorder can indeed be managed, and the condition itself can be significantly improved with the right interventions. Hence, we recommend you contact us if you experience the following signs:
- Frequent panic attacks: If you’re encountering recurrent panic attacks marked by intense fear and physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or dizziness, seeking help is advised.
- Duration of symptoms: If you’ve been experiencing panic attack symptoms for several weeks or months, it’s a sign that the condition may not resolve on its own and requires professional intervention.
- Avoidance behaviour: If you’re avoiding certain situations, places, or activities due to fear of experiencing panic attacks, it’s a red flag.
- Impaired functioning: If panic attacks are impairing your ability to perform daily tasks, go to work or school, maintain relationships, or enjoy activities you once did, seeking professional assistance is essential.
- Physical health concerns: Panic attacks can mimic serious medical conditions like heart attacks. If you’re uncertain whether your symptoms are due to panic disorder or a physical health issue, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider.
- Emotional distress: If you’re experiencing persistent feelings of fear, dread, or worry about having another panic attack, and these emotions are affecting your emotional well-being, it’s time to reach out for support.
- Changes in behaviour: If you notice significant changes in your behaviour, mood, or thoughts that align with panic disorder symptoms, consulting a mental health professional can help determine an accurate diagnosis.
- Impact on Relationships: If panic disorder is straining your relationships with family, friends, or colleagues due to avoidance behaviours or emotional distress, it’s advisable to seek guidance.
Therapy for panic disorder
Therapy is a crucial and effective approach to managing and overcoming panic disorder. Several therapeutic techniques have proven successful in helping individuals overcome panic disorder. Here are some common modalities used for treating this problem:
- Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapy for panic disorder. Through CBT, individuals learn to challenge irrational fears and develop coping strategies to manage anxiety and panic. Exposure techniques, where individuals gradually confront feared situations, are often incorporated to desensitise them to triggers.
- Exposure Therapy: This form of therapy involves controlled and gradual exposure to situations or stimuli that trigger panic attacks. The goal is to reduce the fear response over time by repeated exposure, helping individuals build tolerance and resilience. Exposure therapy can be conducted under the guidance of a therapist in a controlled environment.
- Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Mindfulness techniques, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), can be effective in managing panic disorder. These therapies promote being present at the moment, reducing the focus on future panic attacks and fostering a more accepting attitude toward distressing sensations.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT combines mindfulness and behavioural strategies to help individuals accept their feelings and thoughts without judgement while committing to behaviours aligned with their values.
- Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT): CFT involves cultivating self-compassion and reducing self-criticism through a combination of mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, and visualisation techniques. It helps individuals develop a kinder and more understanding relationship with themselves, addressing the shame, guilt, and harsh self-judgement often associated with panic attacks. By fostering a compassionate inner dialogue and building emotional regulation skills, CFT aims to alleviate anxiety, enhance self-worth, and promote a sense of safety, ultimately aiding individuals in managing and overcoming panic disorder.
CBT for panic disorder
CBT is a widely used and effective approach for treating panic disorder. CBT for panic disorder typically consists of several key elements:
- Education: Individuals are educated about the nature of panic attacks, the physiological responses that occur during an attack, and the cycle of fear and avoidance that can perpetuate panic disorder.
- Self-monitoring: Clients are encouraged to keep a record of their panic attacks, including triggers, sensations, thoughts, and behaviours. This helps identify patterns and triggers, laying the groundwork for targeted interventions.
- Cognitive restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns that contribute to panic attacks, such as catastrophizing (“I’m going to die”) and overgeneralization (“Every time I feel anxious, I’ll have a panic attack”). By replacing these thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones, individuals can reduce the anxiety associated with panic attacks.
- Exposure: Gradual exposure to feared situations or bodily sensations is a critical component of CBT for panic disorder. This exposure helps individuals confront their fears, desensitise themselves to triggers, and learn that their anxiety decreases over time without the feared catastrophe occurring.
- Coping strategies: Individuals are taught practical coping strategies for managing anxiety, such as focusing on their breath, using positive self-talk, and engaging in grounding exercises to stay present.
- Homework and practice: Between sessions, individuals are often assigned homework to practise the skills learned in therapy. This reinforces the strategies and helps individuals apply them in real-life situations
Our approach to panic disorder therapy
At Psychology Therapy, we deeply empathise with the challenges that come with panic disorder and understand how daunting and disruptive it can be. Therefore, our priority is to provide you with a safe, understanding, and compassionate space where you can work on your fears at your own pace.
We integrate knowledge and strategies from various therapeutic approaches, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based methods, acceptance and commitment therapy, and compassion-focused therapy. By combining these modalities, we adapt the treatment to your specific needs.
Our ultimate objective is to ensure that each session yields something tangible for you, whether it’s a new skill, a practical tool to practise, a shift in mindset, or an alternative perspective on your challenges.
Types of panic disorder
While there are no distinct subtypes of panic disorder, we can differentiate between panic disorder with agoraphobia and panic disorder without:
- Panic disorder with agoraphobia: Together with panic disorder, the person develops agoraphobia, which is the fear of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing. Individuals with this subtype often avoid places they associate with previous panic attacks, leading to restricted mobility and social isolation.
- Panic disorder without agoraphobia: In this subtype, individuals experience panic attacks but don’t develop agoraphobia. Panic attacks can be triggered by various situations or stimuli, and individuals may not necessarily avoid these triggers.
Here are some key factors that may play a role in the onset of panic disorder:
- Genetics: A family history of panic disorder or other anxiety disorders suggests a genetic predisposition to the condition. Certain genetic variations may increase susceptibility to anxiety and panic symptoms.
- Neurotransmitter imbalance: Neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) play a role in regulating mood and anxiety. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can lead to heightened anxiety responses and panic attacks.
- Brain structure and function: Brain regions involved in the regulation of fear responses, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, may function differently in individuals with panic disorder. Changes in brain structure and connectivity can contribute to increased anxiety sensitivity.
- Biological sensitivity: Some individuals are more sensitive to bodily sensations and changes, such as heart rate fluctuations, which can trigger feelings of anxiety and panic.
- Stressful life events: Traumatic experiences, major life transitions, or significant stressors can trigger the onset of panic disorder, particularly in individuals who are genetically predisposed.
- Cognitive factors: Negative thought patterns, such as catastrophic thinking and a heightened focus on bodily sensations, can contribute to the development of panic disorder. Individuals may misinterpret normal physical sensations as signs of danger.
- Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as a tendency toward anxiety, perfectionism, or high levels of negative emotionality, can increase vulnerability to panic disorder.
- Childhood adversity: Adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or family instability, can increase the risk of developing panic disorder in adulthood.
- Substance abuse: The use of substances like caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants can trigger or exacerbate panic attacks in susceptible individuals.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders or cardiovascular issues, can mimic symptoms of panic attacks, leading to misdiagnosis or heightened anxiety.
Note that panic disorder doesn’t have a single cause; rather, it’s the result of complex interactions among these various factors. Additionally, not everyone exposed to these factors will develop panic disorder, as individual susceptibility varies.
Panic disorder is characterised by the presence of recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. These attacks can be distressing and disruptive to daily life. Here are the common symptoms of panic disorder:
- Sudden fear or discomfort: Panic attacks are characterised by an abrupt and overwhelming sense of fear, terror, or impending doom. This fear can be intense and often seems to come out of nowhere.
- Physical symptoms: Panic attacks trigger a range of physical sensations that can mimic those of a heart attack or other medical emergencies. These symptoms may include:
- Rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath or feeling unable to breathe
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Sweating and chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Nausea or stomach discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling disconnected or detached from reality (depersonalization or derealization)
- Hot flashes or cold sweats
- Psychological symptoms: Panic attacks can lead to intense psychological distress, including fear of losing control or going crazy, fear of dying, a sense of unreality or detachment from surroundings, and intense worry about future panic attacks or their consequences.
- Avoidance behaviour: Individuals with panic disorder often begin to avoid situations or places where they’ve previously experienced panic attacks. This avoidance can lead to social isolation and disruption of daily activities.
- Anticipatory anxiety: A significant feature of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks.
- Changes in behaviour: Due to the fear of panic attacks, individuals might change their behaviour to avoid triggering situations. This can include avoiding crowded places, public transportation, or events that could potentially cause panic.
- Negative thought patterns: People with panic disorder may experience distorted thinking, such as catastrophizing (expecting the worst possible outcome), which can exacerbate anxiety.
- Sleep disturbances: Panic disorder can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to anxiety or nocturnal panic attacks.
It’s important to note that experiencing occasional anxiety or panic-like symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean someone has a panic disorder. A diagnosis is typically made when these symptoms are recurrent, unexpected, and significantly interfere with daily life.
Do you offer panic disorder therapy near me?
We offer online panic disorder therapy because this way we can reach you out whenever you are in the world. We are trained in the United Kingdom and provide cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).