Panic Attacks: Between Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

For most people, dealing with life stressors job changes, moving, pregnancy, birth of a child, death of a loved one etc. do not result to anxiety and panic attacks. However, to those who are vulnerable to emotional stress, such situations may lead to panic attacks even if these events happened way back in their life. The reason for this is still not fully understood but it is believed that one major cause of panic attacks is extended period of stress (not by a few days of tension but by several months of constant worrying and unprocessed emotions).

The chances of having an attack are even greater when a panic-prone person receives unnecessary stress such as additional tasks at work or additional responsibility at home. Instead of performing normally under regular circumstance, the additional load can put more pressure that can lead to more stress which can be a catalyst for an attack.

What is panic disorder?

It is commonly believed that panic attacks happen out of the blue, without any reason. It can happen to anyone at any point in their life. Many people experience one episode of panic attack. However, others go on to suffer from panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by several episodes of panic attacks related to past traumatic experiences, existing stress (mentioned above) or something else.

Many attacks last for not more than 30 minutes but the effects of panic disorder can leave lasting effects. People suffering from panic disorder experience emotional stress and excessive fear due to the memory of past attacks. This negative memory has a negative impact to self-confidence and self-esteem, which can lead to the disruption of everyday activities and normal living. While the causes of panic disorder vary from person to person, all conditions lead to these symptoms:

• Anticipatory anxiety or the fear of having future attacks. This can have a detrimental effect to the sufferer since they cannot relax and they always feel anxious and tensed in between attacks.

• Phobic avoidance is characterized by avoiding situations or events in the belief that the situation may cause panic attack. Phobic avoidance can also be avoiding places where help is unavailable during emergency situation.

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is traditionally believed to involve fear of open spaces or public places. Literally means “fear of the marketplace,” agoraphobia is now believed to be a result of panic attacks.

People diagnosed with agoraphobia show different symptoms. But common to all agoraphobics is avoidance either being in public places or being alone. This is actually a character of phobic avoidance (one distinct symptom of panic disorder). The difference, however, is that the effects of agoraphobia can significantly limit the person’s normal activities. Thus, what sets agoraphobia apart from panic disorder is the amount of activities that the person avoids.

People with panic disorder stay generally active, although there are specific situations that they tend to avoid. On the other hand, agoraphobics limit their activities because of fearful thoughts. These fearful thoughts can be very damaging the person’s life as well as his relationship to others.

Either way, both conditions are the result of panic attacks. Hence, it is always best to know the things you can do in order to prevent panic attacks from recurring and worsening. On the first sign of attack, seek for professional help.