Overcoming Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a condition that causes the individual to have frequent anxiety attacks and a constant feeling that something bad will occur. The root cause of panic disorder is not known well, but it is believed that genetics do play a role. Interestingly, the condition is twice more frequent in women than in men, and symptoms usually occur before the age of 25. The onset of a panic attack is sudden, and the symptoms peak within 10 to 20 minutes. Symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, intense fear, dizziness, tightness in chest (which may be mistaken for a heart attack), nausea, shaking, sweating and shortness of breath.

An effective approach to overcoming panic disorder is the AWARE process, which stands for acknowledge, wait and watch, action, repeat, and end. The first step, acknowledge, is the acceptance of the present situation. Acknowledge the fact that you are afraid and anxious, do not ignore it. You need to work with, and not against the symptoms. It may be hard to accept a panic attack, but keep in mind that although such an attack is frightening, it is not dangerous. It won’t harm you or leave a permanent scar.

The next step is wait and watch. Which means don’t do anything, just stay there and wait. During a panic attack, cognitive ability can be impaired, and it is a good idea to wait before you take action. During this time, watch (observe) what the panic does to you and notice how your body responds to it. It can be very helpful to write down your observations, and you may notice that this calms you down. Take on the role of the observer, not the victim.

Next is the Action step. Your job during an attack is to make yourself comfortable, for example slow down your breathing and consciously relax your muscles. Make sure you are not clenching your jaw or making a fist. Talk to yourself about what is happening and ask yourself – is this danger or discomfort? Once you realize that it is just discomfort, you will feel much better. Now, get back to what you were doing before an attack.

The Repeat step is in case if you start feeling better and then get another bout of panic. Just repeat the previous steps; you may need to repeat them a few times until the attack subsides completely. The last step is End, which is simply a reminder that whatever happens, the panic attack will end. No matter how awful and frightening it is, or how out of control you may feel, all panic attacks end.