When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
When the panic takes over
I remember my first panic attack all too well, although, at the time, I didn’t realise that it was ‘just’ a panic attack. My life was quite settled. I liked my job and had just met somebody I was really happy with. But still, out of the blue, I would suddenly go from relaxing in front of the TV to calling 999.
My heart suddenly started beating very fast, it even hurt. I couldn’t breathe properly, felt cold and hot at the same time. I just thought ‘this is it!’ and was convinced I might suffocate or have a heart attack. I couldn’t believe the paramedic had checked all my functions and didn’t find any physical reason for my symptoms.
How could he tell me there was nothing to worry about? That night, I heard of the psychological diagnosis ‘panic disorder’ for the first time.
These experiences are very typical of a psychological phenomenon called panic attacks or panic disorder.
All of us might be tempted to self-diagnose panic attacks when we have to give a talk in front of an awe-inspiring auditorium, when we detect a giant spider under our desks or when the in-laws announce a visit.
However, psychologists only diagnose panic disorder if very strong physical symptoms occur even without external reasons, and if these symptoms are related to a very strong fear of fainting, suffocating, or even dying.
Understandably, sufferers contact their GP first, and understandably, they often feel ignored and alone when there is no satisfactory explanation for their very frightening symptoms. How could something this overwhelming be a mere mental byproduct?
Never really convinced that they are completely physically healthy, many patients start changing their life to manage their fear of further attacks.
I thought I would die, and I was still afraid that all of this might happen again. And it did. There were more of these attacks, and more and more my life changed for the worse. I couldn’t go to the supermarket or cinema anymore, afraid it might happen again and I wouldn’t be able to get out in time.
I stopped exercising completely, although I had enjoyed it a lot before all this started. I was afraid it might increase the symptoms. Even simple things like getting on the tube to London, or taking a walk in the park started to become impossible.
Once the anxiety starts to take over, as in the described case, it becomes increasingly difficult for sufferers to get back to their normal life by themselves.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a very effective way of regaining control and independence. Psychological studies provide evidence that a couple of cognitive-behavioural treatment sessions can enhance life quality quickly and significantly.
To further improve the treatment of panic disorder and to identify the mechanisms of successful therapy, a research team at the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry is currently running an extensive project on panic disorder.
The researchers are looking for people who believe they might suffer from panic disorder and are interested in participating in one of the studies.
Participation is reimbursed, and it is possible to receive a free CBT session.
For more information contact Dr Andrea Reinecke on 01865 223606 or e-mail email@example.com Online information and a screening questionnaire and application form are available on the website https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/site/users/psyc0395/ survey/surveys/