Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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  • 0:05 What Is Panic?
  • 1:28 Panic Attacks
  • 2:51 Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
  • 4:47 Causes
  • 7:28 Treatment of Panic…
  • 8:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

Panic disorder is a debilitating condition that is characterized by how quickly it strikes. In this lesson we will learn about the symptoms, causes and treatment of panic disorder. We will also learn about agoraphobia, a disease that often accompanies panic disorder.

What Is Panic?

More than any other body part, our brains are what keep us safe. A reflex, such as pulling our hand back from a hot stovetop, is an instant reaction designed to protect us. These instincts kept prehistoric man alive. He instinctually knew to fear dangerous situations such as confrontation with large predators. Humans have maintained those automatic reactions to potentially dangerous situations.

In some instances, these reactions are still useful. When presented with a dangerous situation, our instincts still tell us we must either fight or flee. However, in our current society, this 'fight or flight' response is less relevant. We are not confronted daily with predators or falling boulders where we would need to react without conscious thought.

Regardless, this instinct still lives in our brains. In some people, this reaction can occur when confronted with a frightening or stressful situation that is not life threatening, such as public speaking or even driving. Sometimes, this same reaction can begin in the brain for no reason at all.

Panic Attacks

Intense, often debilitating fear from a normal situation can escalate into what is known as a panic attack. Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected periods of intense, debilitating fear where the affected person has a similar reaction as if confronted by a lion. These attacks usually peak within 10 minutes but can feel like a lot longer to those experiencing them.

During panic attacks, people experience extreme anxiety often accompanied by rapid pulse, heart palpitations, dizziness, hot or cold flashes, chest pain, weakness, nausea and a sense that they are having a heart attack or are going to die. Also common are symptoms of depersonalization and derealization.

These weird sounding names are actually rather simple symptoms to remember. Depersonalization is a feeling of being outside your own body while derealization is a feeling that the world is not real. These feelings, coupled with the many physical symptoms, frequently cause people to think that they are losing control of themselves and 'going crazy.' Unfortunately, this most often leads to further panic and an escalation of symptoms.

Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

Although panic attacks are not dangerous, they are terrifying. Generally, panic attacks arise out of nowhere and are completely unexpected. People who experience a panic attack fear having another one. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by frequent panic attacks and significant anxiety about having more attacks. For a diagnosis to be made, the fear of having more panic attacks needs to be present for at least one month, and usually corresponds with changes in behavior in order to avoid more attacks.

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