What is panic disorder – and do you suffer from it?

Posted by
Megan Murray
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As a society, we’re making a conscious effort to talk about mental health more than ever before. However, there’s no denying that the intricacies of the anxiety and stress felt by millions of people in the UK still make for a complex subject – and one lesser known illness that sits under this umbrella is panic disorder.

Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain recently confirmed that she suffers from this condition. And, sitting down with for a powerful interview with John Bishop, the talented baker and cook opened up about the fragility she experiences, despite having a career that many would envy.

“My whole life revolves around not falling apart,” said Hussain.

The food author went on to describe how panic disorder affects her, saying: “I describe it as a monster. Some days the monster shouts in my face, no matter where I turn he will keep shouting at me, I can’t get him out of my face.

“Other days he’s behind me and he’ll tap me on the shoulder a little bit here and there through the day and I can ignore him completely.

“Other days I can put him in my pocket. He’s always there.”

Countless people on social media praised Hussain for being so open and honest about her battles with mental wellness. Others, though, were confused: what is panic disorder?

Well, while many of us are familiar with the terms ‘anxiety’ and ‘stress’, panic disorder is very much a breed all of its own.

As the NHS website states, it’s normal for us all to experience feelings of panic in stressful situations, and we’re bound to experience anxiety at some point in our life time. But panic disorder occurs when these feelings strike regularly, seemingly without reason or cause, often resulting in panic attacks.

There are two main ways in which panic disorder can affect someone, either through overwhelming feelings of anxiety or a panic attack.

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms someone might experience when suffering with anxiety include but are not limited to:

  • Restlessness
  • Sense of dread
  • Feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

Symptoms of a panic attack

The symptoms someone might experience when suffering with panic attack include but are not limited to:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Hot flushes
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Dry mouth

As with many mental health disorders, the reasons behind why we get panic attacks are not fully known but it is important to remember that although undoubtedly scary, panic attacks are not actually dangerous and will not harm the sufferer long term.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix to stop panic attacks happening, but there are things you can do in the moment to try and help yourself to calm down.

Ways to soothe a panic attack

  • Stop and stay where you are. If you’re driving, safely pull over as you don’t know how long it will take for the attack to pass.
  • Focus on something non-threatening and try to remember that these thoughts won’t last forever.
  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Imagine a place or situation that makes you feel peaceful.
  • Don’t try to hold in your symptoms, you may cry or visibly shake while it having a panic attack and that’s okay.

Panic attacks can affect everyone differently, with some suffering from them several times a week while others might experience them much less. If you think you suffer from panic disorder, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.

For more information on panic attacks and panic disorder visit the Mind website.

Images: iStock