What is it?
A mysterious and terrifying experience that's not a result of anything that is happening to you . Like a car bearing down on you while you're out on your evening jog. Though that's precisely when it might occur (out jogging that is).
What's it like?
The key thing you'll notice is that it just happens; without warning--without reason. Often away from home and in a public place. All of this adds to the extreme sensations you'll experience. Like feeling dizzy, a choking sensation, sick to your stomach, feeling like your having a heart attack, or the sensation of losing your mind. A significant number of people who have panic attacks have them while asleep.
When is it a disorder?
Just because you experience an episode of panic doesn't mean you have Panic Disorder. You may experience one or several of these and have no other problems in your life. In fact, you may feel happy and satisfied with your life. Some people though start having more than an occasional attack and it becomes more complicated. When you start to worry about having an attack and even anticipate them, it can become a problem. If you begin to avoid situations or places where one has already occurred, it starts to impact your life in negative ways. This may turn into a disorder that needs more attention.
There is some indication that anxiety can run in families. You may also be vulnerable if you've had significant childhood experiences that were traumatic or very negative. This may be because you've now learned to be highly sensitive to unpleasant physical sensations and negative thoughts. The truth is there is no clear and definitive cause anyone can point to in all cases.
What can I do about it?
You have several options. One or two attacks in an otherwise healthy and contented life is not a major concern, but you should always review your health status with your family physician. If you find yourself having repeated attacks and avoiding certain situations due to those attacks; then you really want to contact you doctor or a licensed therapist to discuss the situation.
You don't have to suffer with Panic Disorder, there are both medications and therapies quite effective to treat it. Medications are typically used in the short term to give you immediate relief while you learn cognitive and behavioral skills. First to experience the attack without making it worse and then skills to manage the experience long term.
For more information, check out WebMD's Anxiety and Panic Disorders Health Center.
What do you think about the issue of anxiety and panic?