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Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

  • IU Health Center
    4th Floor
  • For information or to schedule an appointment
    (812) 855-5711

Self-Help

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that affects more than 2 million Americans. It's unpredictable and has little to do with any real external threat.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by brief episodes of intense fear. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Physical symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
  • Heart palpitations (pound or accelerated heartbeat)
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness, or lightheadedness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensation that you are choking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling of unreality, as if you're not "all there" (also called depersonalization)
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fears of going crazy or losing control
  • Fears of dying
Causes of Panic Disorder

There are several theories, but one that gets a lot of attention is called an "integrated model." It argues that people with panic disorder are biologically "hard-wired" to respond to the stress of negative events with exaggerated neurobiological activity. This overreaction occurs because such individuals view small stressors as if they were more dangerous or life-threatening than they really are.

Panic attacks are so unpleasant that people who have them can become frightened of having another. This anxiety in turn can cause the next attack, leading to full-blown panic disorder.

Treatment of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder can be treated effectively. First, your doctor needs to make sure your panic reaction does not have a physical cause. Similar symptoms can be caused by these conditions:

  • Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Excess caffeine
  • Alcohol, tranquilizer, or sedative withdrawal

Treatment for panic disorder can involve medication and counseling. There are also things you can do for yourself to control panic disorder.

  • Learn to recognize the signs of a panic attack and understand what they are.
  • Calm yourself by understanding that what you are experiencing is a panic attack, not a real threat.
  • Practice self-talk. "I know what is happening to me. This is a panic attack. It will subside. I am going to be okay."
  • Consider lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise and trying not to be a perfectionist.
  • Relaxed breathing can help you overcome panic. Download these relaxation exercises.

If you are concerned about panic attacks, schedule an appointment with a CAPS counselor by calling (812) 855-5711. If you've paid your IU Health Fee this semester, your first two visits are free.