1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email

Discuss in my forum

Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia

Understanding the Fear

By

Updated June 11, 2009

The Experience of Recurring Panic Attacks

To understand panic disorder with agoraphobia, we must first talk about panic attacks. Sudden and recurring panic attacks are the hallmark symptoms of panic disorder. If you have never had recurring panic attacks, it may be hard to understand the difficulties your friend or loved one is going through. During a panic attack, the body’s alarm system is triggered without the presence of actual danger. The exact cause of why this happens is not known, but it is believed that there is a genetic and/or biological component.

Sufferers often use the terms fear, terror and horror to describe the frightening symptoms of a full-blown panic attack. But even these frightening words can’t convey the magnitude of the consuming nature of panic disorder. The fear becomes so intense that the thought of having another panic attack is never far from conscious thought. Incessant worry and feelings of overwhelming anxiety may become part of your loved one’s daily existence.

These Intense Symptoms Must Mean Something…Something Terrible

At the onset of panic disorder, your loved one may be quite certain they are suffering from a heart condition or other life-threatening illness. This may mean trips to the nearest emergency room and intensive testing to rule out physical disease. But, even when he or she is assured that these symptoms are not life-threatening, it does little to put his or her mind at ease. The feelings experienced during panic attacks are so overwhelming and uncontrollable, sufferers are convinced they are going to die or are going crazy.

A New Way of Life Emerges: Fear and Avoidance

So frightening are the symptoms of panic disorder, that your loved one may go to any and all lengths to avoid another attack from occurring. This may include many avoidant types of behavior and the development of agoraphobia. But, despite the efforts to avoid another panic episode, the attacks continue without rhyme or reason. There is no place to escape, and the sufferer becomes a prisoner of an insidious and illogical fear. Without appropriate treatment, your loved one may become so disabled that he or she is unable to leave his or her home at all.

Self Image Is Redefined

At times, we’ve all experienced nervousness, anxiousness, fear and, perhaps, even terror or horror. But in the midst of a catastrophic event, we understand these symptoms. Once the event is over, so, too, are the symptoms. But, imagine reliving these symptoms over and over again, without any warning or explanation.

This type of fear is life-changing. As abilities become inabilities, things once taken for granted, like going to into a store, become anxiety-filled events. Some enjoyable activities, like going to concerts or movies, may be avoided altogether. It is not uncommon for sufferers to experience a sense of shame, weakness and embarrassment as their self-image is redefined by fear.

Panic disorder is not just being nervous or anxious. Panic disorder is not just about the fear, terror and horror experienced during a full-blown panic attack because it does not end when the panic subsides. It is a disorder that is quick to invade and can alter one’s very essence, redefine one’s abilities and take over every aspect of one’s life.

Your Role As A Support Person

As a support person, you can play an important role in your loved one's recovery process. Understanding what panic disorder is, and what it is not, will help you on this journey. Author Ken Strong provides a lot of information for supporting a person with panic disorder in his book, Anxiety Disorders: The Caregivers, Third Edition.
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Panic Disorder
  4. Family and Friends
  5. Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia - What's it Like to Have Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.