Mental Health Monday


This week, I’m going to address the subject of panic attacks, a form of anxiety.

Most of us are familiar with anxiety, right? Our stomach twinges, our heart beats a little faster, our palms get sweaty, and our breath quickens.

Imagine this, but 100 times worse. Your heart beats so fast you’re sure it’ll just burst or stop. It gets so hard to breathe you feel like you’re suffocating. A weight or sensation of doom presses down on your shoulders. You need to come out of your skin, but you don’t know how. Leaving is IMPERATIVE, but you don’t know where to go. And it wouldn’t help anyway because the feelings will follow you.

All of these sensations mean you WILL. DIE.

Truly, many who experience a panic attack for the first time think they are having a heart attack. They are convinced they are dying. Getting to the ER is a necessity from their perspective.

So what happens if panic attacks keep happening?

Well, some people develop what’s called agoraphobia. Classically, this is understood as a fear of open spaces or public places. More specifically, it is the fear that a panic attack will develop and the person will have no means of escape.

Over time, the sufferer may restrict their outings, staying closer and closer to home until they are literally housebound. Some become so fearful of leaving home (because they’re convinced they’ll have a panic attack if they do), that they stay inside their houses for years, sometimes decades.

What’s the treatment?

Anti-depressants are often prescribed because they also treat anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications can also be used, but they tend to treat the symptoms without treating the underlying “biologic” cuase. The most effective treatment over the long-term is exposure therapy or something called desensitization. These are big words referring to confronting the fear (of leaving the house in this instance) in stages. The first stage includes visualizing or imagining leaving the house, giving the person the opportunity to acclimate to the anxiety and learn how to tolerate it. With time, they are able to tolerate ever increasing amounts of exposure and eventually, they can leave their house and not suffer any anxiety. (The time this takes varies per person.)

******

As always, this is NOT intended as medical advice or treatment. This is solely for writing purposes.

Check out Lydia’s blog for Medical Mondays!

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7 comments on “Mental Health Monday

  1. Lydia Kang says:

    The desensitization part sounds fascinating. What could be more horrific, facing your fears? Or facing them over, and over, and over again?

    • lbdiamond says:

      Scary, true. Desensitization breaks it down into manageable chunks where you can face your fear in a relaxed manner. It totally works…if you’re willing to put the work into it.

  2. Indigo says:

    Unfortunately I recognize this pattern. In my case it happened soon after I went deaf. To say it’s terrifying is making light of how if felt.

    I know I did get to a place I were I didn’t want to leave the house or be out in public by myself. There is nothing more frightening than walking along a deserted street, only to have someone step up beside you and realize he’d been walking behind you for some time. Losing one of your senses, leaves you vulnerable and disoriented.

    How did I overcome it? Antidepressants and therapy. In the end it was simply a matter of relearning how to live in a silent world versus a hearing one. Add in a beautiful working dog for the deaf who alerts me to dangerous sounds…I’m gold.

    I will say medicating the problem is merely a damper. You need tools such as therapy and group counseling to learn to deal with these symptoms. (Hugs)Indigo

  3. Jamie Grey says:

    Interesting! I had no idea the treatment was to keep facing your fears until you’re desensitized. Ugh! I don’t know what would be worse – the problem or the cure

  4. Danyelle says:

    That’s interesting that desensitization helps overcome the fear. I like that it goes in baby steps. Do you find that the desensitization sticks better when going at the person’s rate? Is this something that a person would have to deal with long term (keeping the desensitization current) or does it go away after being adequately dealt with?

    • lbdiamond says:

      Certainly, the person can go at their own pace. The therapist may have to do some pushing if the person is quite, um, resistant to progress, though.

      Depending on the situation, someone may reach full cure, or they may struggle and go back and forth. Most people benefit from “booster” sessions now and then. 😉

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