Why Panic Isn’t Anxiety and Other Stigmas to Reconsider

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The truth behind panic attacks and common misconceptions debunked.

Imagine casually walking down the street, listening to your latest favorite song through your noise-canceling headphones. As you cross the street, you turn to see a fire-truck barreling towards you full speed with sirens and all. Your body goes into overdrive as you get out of the way, and for the following moments, it feels like your life is hanging in the balance.

Now imagine dealing with that feeling daily. When you’re sitting in class or the library, or doing your grocery shopping.

These intense episodes are a reality to those who struggle with panic attacks and panic disorders. It’s a mental health issue that’s still largely misunderstood, with many misconceptions that need to be rectified.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions.

Panic attacks are just an overreaction to stress

Panic attacks can last anywhere from a few moments to 10 minutes. They are more than just being “too worried” or “high strung,” but episodes than can be debilitating to an individual’s day-to-day doings. These episodes are caused by individuals having their fight-or-flight response triggered.

Individuals who suffer from panic attacks avoid situations that trigger these attacks at all costs and this can become a major problem when it prevents individuals from completing normal tasks.

Panic attacks can cause individuals to faint

Fainting is caused by a drop in blood pressure. Panic attacks, on the contrary, cause individuals’ blood pressure to rise. However, there are other physical symptoms that are associated with panic attacks. Due to the increased blood pressure, individuals may feel like they are suffering from a heart attack. Individuals may also experience chest pain, dizziness or difficult breathing.

Panic attacks and anxiety are the same thing

Both are very difficult to deal with, but there is a difference between just the episodes (i.e. a few panic attacks) from disorders. Anxiety is more of an umbrella term, that encompasses a multitude of disorders, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and more.

Anxiety is more worrying about the bad that could happen in the future, whether it’s in the next five minutes or later in the week. It’s when individuals start worrying about their panic attacks, when the next one will be and start avoiding situations to prevent them that it would qualify as panic disorder.

You’re stuck with the disorder for the rest of your life

There is a huge stigma when it comes to mental health. Many individiduals believe that once they are diagnosed with a mental illness, they will be on medication for the rest of their life. This prolongs individuals from seeking help. However, the sooner individuals do so, the sooner they can help gain control of their panic.

It isn’t treatable

There is also a myth that panic attacks or panic disorders are not treatable. Research has shown that medications are effective, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy without medications or a combination of the two can also be effective. A doctor could help determine which method is most effective for an individual’s case.

Individuals should avoid what causes the episodes

For many people, their initial instinct is to avoid situations that cause them pain. But in reality, individuals should do the opposite. The moment individuals start avoiding places because they think they might have a panic attack, they start restricting their lives, and this is a problem.

Engaging in safety behaviors does not help the individual suffering from the disorder realize there is nothing to fear in the first place. The best way to manage panic attacks or panic disorder is to consult a professional who can help employ techniques to help manage attacks.

Just like many other forms of mental illnesses, there are plenty of misconceptions. The best way to effectively help individuals who need help is to bring information forward to the public and help individuals understand it is okay to ask for help. And remember, keep calm and don’t panic too much.

Featured image credit: Wikipedia Commons

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About Author

Hi! My name is Aaron Martes. If you translate my name to English it would be Aaron Tuesday, hence the name of my column Tuesday's psychology. I'm currently a second semester junior majoring in Forensic Psychology. I'm originally from the island of Aruba. FIT has literally been a home away from home. On campus I'm an active member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, president of the surf club, and work in various offices across campus. The best part about being here at Florida Tech is the ability to combine your passions with your hobbies and make the most of my college experience.

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