Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear that is accompanied by strong physical sensations including:
- Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- Shakiness or trembling
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling smothered
- Choking sensation
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feelings of unreality
- Feeling detached from yourself
- Fear of going crazy
- Fear of dying
Individuals often think they are having a heart attack or a life threatening illness. People who experience repeated panic attacks often want to avoid the situation or location where the initial panic attack occurred. Individuals with panic disorder experience anxiety about the possibility of having another attack.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the primary treatment for panic disorder. We will tailor an exposure plan to help you approach situations that trigger you. Interoceptive exposure, where uncomfortable bodily sensations are induced on purpose, allows you to practice relating to discomfort in a different way. Interoceptive exposure helps individuals learn more helpful ways to respond to bodily sensations. Individuals with panic disorder experience anxiety in anticipation of approaching situations that might trigger a panic attack. Acceptance and commitment therapy will augment your exposure therapy to help you be present now, relate to your anxiety in a different way, and do what matters.
You will define the pace at which we will work on exposure tasks. ERP tasks will be practiced in the office so that you are coached through it. Practice between sessions is crucial to see good results. We may also take “Field trips” to complete ERP outside the office to wherever you experience triggers, including school, work, or public places.
Helpful Treatment Augmentations
Family therapy is often useful so that your family members have a plan to support you in ways that will help you reach your goals. We will address problematic behaviors that affect your relationships and interfere with your progress. Together, we will find alternative strategies that can help you.
Compassion focused therapy is useful for clients who feel guilty, are self-critical and lack self-compassion.
Medication can be a helpful addition to your therapy. If you are not currently taking medication for your anxiety, and we determine that it may be useful, a referral to a physician will be provided.