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Are People With Panic Disorder Just Overreacting?

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Updated May 02, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Are People With Panic Disorder Just Overreacting?

One of the most common myths about panic disorder is that people with this condition are just overreacting. Many people believe that those with anxiety disorders can simply “get over” their fears. Often in an attempt to understand their condition, even friends and family of those with panic disorder may wonder if their loved one can control their symptoms.

These misconceptions can make it difficult for panic suffers to be open to telling others about their panic disorder. These misunderstandings only contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation that are already so common for people with this condition. Known as the “panic secret”, many people with panic disorder chose to keep it a secret out of fear of how others will react.

Answer:

The truth is that people with panic disorder cannot simply just “get over” their symptoms. Panic disorder is a real and diagnosable condition that involves intense feelings of fear and apprehension. Panic attacks, the hallmark symptom of panic disorder, involve many frightening symptoms. For example, during a panic attack, it is not uncommon for a person to experience the physical symptoms of chest pain, shaking, accelerated heart rate, and shortness of breath. The intensity of their panic attacks can make them fear that they are losing control or even potentially dying.

What If I Force Him/Her Into Feared Situations?

Many people with panic disorder become afraid of certain situations they believe may trigger their panic attacks. Approximately one-third of people with panic disorder will also develop agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a mental health condition that involves fear and avoidance of situations and circumstances in which escape would be difficult and/or embarrassing.

Forcing someone into uncomfortable situations will not rid them of their fears. In fact, it can potentially strengthen their anxiety and panic symptoms. Plus, by being forceful with your loved one, they may lose some of their trust in you. As a friend or family member, you want to be there for your loved one instead of contributing to their problems.

What Can I Do To Help?

The most important thing that you can do is to be supportive of your loved one with panic disorder. Remember that he or she did not choose to feel this way. Try to be patient and empathetic to their condition. Keep in mind that your support can play a major part in your loved one’s recovery process. Supporting a loved one with panic disorder doesn’t need to be overly time-consuming. Simply checking in with them from time to time will let them know that you care.

How Can Panic Disorder Be Treated?

There are different types of professionals who treat panic disorder. Depending on their theoretical background, experience, and education, these mental health specialists will provide different treatment options for panic disorder.

Currently, the most common treatment options include psychotherapy, self-help techniques, or medication for panic disorder. For best outcomes, most specialists will recommend a combination of these treatment options.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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