What to Expect When You're Diagnosed with Panic Disorder

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

The greatest fear people experience during a panic attack is that they are going crazy or even that they are having a serious medical problem that will kill them. You may feel as if you are going to lose your mind or that you're having a heart attack or stroke, but if you're in relatively good health and have a stable history of "keeping it together," the attack will end.

My articles will teach you how common panic attacks are, how rapidly they end, and what the initial steps are in eliminating these attacks from your life. Most importantly, you'll learn that you aren't to blame for your panic attacks, and that being kinder to yourself is a good first step in mastering this problem. You'll feel better because you will feel more understood, you'll see how universal a problem panic can be, and you'll stop beating yourself up for having the problem in the first place.

Untreated, a panic disorder certainly will diminish your quality of life and potentially be disabling. Those who have had panic attacks are vulnerable to phobias, for people who have had panic attacks sometimes become phobic and will avoid the stimuli that they associate with their original panic attack. Panic disorder, however, is highly treatable through psychotherapy and/or medication and does not have to interfere with your quality of life.

People who have panic attacks do not end up in mental hospitals. People who have panic attacks feel crazy but they are not. Panic attacks involve common symptoms that are often times scary, but it does not mean you are nuts.

How long does the typical panic attack last? According to the American Psychological Association, a panic attack will generally last ten minutes. However, please note that those ten minutes feel like forever during the course of the panic attack.

You are not having a heart attack, a stroke or a seizure, but you may feel that you are seriously ill. Your heart may be pounding and your palms sweating. You may be feeling like you can't catch your breath, or that you're so dizzy that you're going to pass out. People often go to hospitals during panic attacks because they believe that they are having a heart attack, when, in fact, they are experiencing normal and common symptoms of panic.

Between three and six million Americans will have a panic disorder at one point in their lives. This means that between 1.5 and 3 percent of the population will experience panic disorder in their lifetimes. However, as many as 25 million Americans are thought to have had intermittent and scattered panic attacks.

© Mark Sichel, LCSW


Mark Sichel, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mark is the author of Healing from Family Rifts, a guide to mending even the most difficult family estrangements, and how to reconcile with yourself if your family rift cannot be healed. More information can be found at www.marksichel.com. Visit the author's web site at www.psybersquare.com.