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Loneliness and Panic Disorder

Ways to Manage Your Feelings of Isolation

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Updated March 27, 2012

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

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Loneliness is a common struggle for people with panic disorder.

Photo © Microsoft

Loneliness can be described as a sense of isolation and feelings of emptiness. When experiencing loneliness, you may feel separated from the world or believe others don’t accept you. At the same time, you may yearn to participate more in life and enjoy the company of others who support and understand you.

Most people experience loneliness from time to time. However, feelings of loneliness are very typical for people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder and/or agoraphobia. Additionally, loneliness is also associated with depression, a common co-occurring mental health disorder.

Loneliness frequently occurs with mood and anxiety disorders. Many people with panic disorder distance themselves, fearing others won’t understand. They may be embarrassed by their panic attacks or other anxiety symptoms. There are also many myths about panic disorder that may contribute to a panic sufferer's feelings of shame.

Even though people with panic disorder, panic attacks and agoraphobia are prone to feelings of loneliness, there are ways to get past these feelings and become more connected to others. The following are some steps you can take:

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care strategies are any activities that you can do to enhance your overall health and wellness. For example, self-care practices can help improve your physical, mental, spiritual, relational and emotional well being. Addressing your self-care needs can be a great way to improve your self-esteem and confidence.

Many self-care activities can help combat feelings of loneliness and reduce panic disorder symptoms. For instance, physical exercise for panic disorder can help reduce stress hormones and decrease muscle tension. Listening to music you like can improve your mood and keep you from dwelling on negative-thinking patterns. Practicing relaxation techniques can help limit your anxious feelings. You may even find that by taking care of yourself, your feelings of loneliness have lifted.

Be an Active Participant in Life

Another way to overcome your feelings of isolation is to put yourself out there by getting involved in classes, groups, clubs or organizations. Do you enjoy any specific activities, such as hiking, reading or photography? There are social events and meetings for just about any interest.

To get more involved, consider joining a book club at your local library, taking a fitness class at a gym, going to an art class in a craft store or attending a religious meeting. Group activities can also be found by searching online for specific interest groups, such as walking, knitting or rock climbing.

You may even find some online interest groups that connect you to people throughout the world through forums, email and chat. Virtual groups are a great option if you are feeling shy about meeting others or are isolated because of other mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder.

By seeking out and engaging in groups or classes, you are proactively working on getting past your feelings of loneliness. A group setting can help you learn a new skill or share a passion with other like-minded people. Groups and clubs provide a sense of belonging and community and can be a fun way to keep from being so alone.

Be of Service to Others

To feel more connected to the world around you, consider volunteering for a cause. You may find that there are a variety of local opportunities. They may include assisting at a food bank, caring for animals or aiding in local charity fundraising events. Through volunteering, you may feel distracted from your symptoms and feelings of loneliness, while connecting to others.

You can also be of service to others by teaching them what you know. You may have a talent or skill that others would like to learn. Whether you are skilled at painting, gardening or another passion, there may be people who want to learn from you. By teaching others what you know, you can keep from feeling isolated, build your self-esteem and help another person learn a new skill.

Assisting others doesn’t need to involve going far from home. For people with frequent panic attacks or agoraphobia, the thought of reaching out to others can seem unbearable, if not impossible. However, there are opportunities to be of service while close to home. Notice if you have any neighbors who may need some assistance with lawn maintenance or who just want to talk. You may be surprised to find out that other people in your neighborhood - older adults, stay-at-home moms or single parents - are also experiencing loneliness.

Additionally, a pet can be a great way for an isolated person to gain a sense of companionship. Consider helping out by adopting a cat or dog. Your pet can provide you with a sense of love and compassion. Plus, walking a dog can help you meet others in your neighborhood.

Build a Panic Disorder Support Network

Finding supportive and understanding people can help eliminate loneliness and assist you on your road to recovery. A support network can be made up of professionals, understanding loved ones and others who relate to your experience with panic disorder. Your doctors and other professionals who treat panic disorder are already a part of your network, as they help you with coping and treatment planning. Trusted friends and family can have a positive impact on your growth.

There are also many others dealing with the same condition who understand your feelings of loneliness, and they may be able to share in the experience. This type of support can be found through group therapy or even virtually, through such groups as our online support forum or on our Facebook page for panic disorder. There are others who understand and can be a part of your support system. A diagnosis of panic disorder does not mean that you have to live with loneliness and isolation.

Sources:

Bourne, E. J. "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 5th ed." 2011 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. “The Wheel of Wellness” In J. E. Meyers & T. J. Sweeney (Eds.), Counseling for wellness: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 15-28) 2005 Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Schiraldi, G. R. “The Self-Esteem Workbook” 2001 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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