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Panic Disorder

What is panic disorder? 

Panic disorder (PD) is an anxiety disorder which causes someone to experience recurrent and unexpected attacks of anxiety. Panic attacks cause a reaction of intense fear – otherwise known as fight-or-flight – and are usually disproportionate to the actual danger presented.

Panic disorder signs and symptoms 

Panic attacks are a central symptom of panic disorder (and perhaps the most recognisable one), but they’re not the only one. There are a wide range of other behavioural, psychological and physiological symptoms associated with this type of anxiety disorder.


  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Depersonalisation (feeling “out of body”)


  • Avoiding situations
  • Avoiding any physical activity that may trigger a feeling similar to a panic attack
  • Placing oneself close to exits within a room
  • Being accompanied to places by a family member or friend in anticipation of a panic attack


  • Worrying about future panic attacks
  • Fear of having a heart attack
  • Fear of dying
  • Feelings of losing control

How does panic disorder develop? 

Panic disorder usually develops following a major, stressful life event, such as losing a loved one or a serious illness. It’s also been shown to hold a genetic basis which means you’re more likely to develop it if a family member also has the disorder.

Therapies for panic disorder 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) centres around the belief that our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes are all connected, and impact the way we feel and how we respond to situations. CBT will help you learn to recognise and challenge negative thoughts so that you can replace them with healthier ways of thinking.

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)

Although CBT is likely to be the first type of therapy you’re offered, you might also benefit from Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) which looks to explore any problematic ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Your therapist will work with you to understand the origins of your anxiety and how your current coping strategies might be making it worse.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques to teach you how to observe your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the present moment. Whilst CBT aims to change anxious thoughts, MBCT focuses on ‘decentering’ – becoming aware of all incoming thoughts and feelings and simply accepting them.

To find out more about which approach to therapy might be best for you, contact us here or call 020 3930 1437 for a free phone consultation.

Panic disorder statistics in the UK 

  • An estimated 1 in 6 people experience a common mental disorder such as anxiety or depression weekly.
  • In 2013, 8.2 million people were diagnosed with anxiety.
  • Women are almost twice as likely to have anxiety than men.
  • Anxiety disorders may begin in either childhood, adolescence or in adulthood and are likely to decrease with older age.
  • There is a high association between panic disorder and agoraphobia, which is a fear or anxiety of particular situations.
  • Of all anxiety disorders, panic disorder has the lowest lifetime prevalence.

Panic disorder myths 

Panic attacks are the only symptom of panic disorder”

Whilst panic attacks are central to the disorder, they’re not the only symptom. If you have panic disorder, you will also likely be experiencing other accompanying symptoms such as persistent worry and anxiety.

Panic attacks can be avoided”

Some people wrongly believe that if they avoid a triggering situation, they can avoid the panic attack. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually true. Due to the unexpected nature of panic attacks, there may not be any specific stimuli that causes them. And avoiding a situation is likely to increase fear which can end up exacerbating symptoms.

Individuals with panic disorder have to take medicine for the rest of their life”

For some people, medication can help reduce the severity of their panic attacks and anxiety but this treatment is unlikely to last over a prolonged period of time.

Panic attacks do serious harm to your body”

Panic attacks can be a terrifying experiencing – particularly the first time they happen. But their symptoms are usually not life-threatening and will gradually subside.

Panic attacks only occur when awake”

Panic attacks tend to happen when someone is awake. However, they can also be triggered whilst someone is sleeping. When this happens, it’s known as a ‘nocturnal panic attack’. These attacks can sometimes contribute to sleep disorders.

Panic attack self help

Self-care comes in many forms and it’s all about finding what works for you. Treatment and recovery can take time, but there a few steps you can start taking right away:

Recommended reading – best books for panic disorder 

  • Overcoming Panic and Agoraphobia Self-Help Course: A 3-part Programme Based on Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (Derrick Silove and Vijaya Manicavasgar, 2007)
  • Rewire Your Anxious Brain (Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle, 2014)
  • Free Yourself from Anxiety: A Self Help Guide to Overcoming Anxiety Disorders (Emma Fletcher and Martha Langley, 2009)

Podcasts and audible guides


  • Beat Panic. This app uses a sequence of soothing coloured flashcards with calming messages to help someone overcome a panic attack.
  • Stop Panic & Anxiety Self-Help. This app provides support using a diary, multiple audios for panic assistance, emotion-tracking and relaxation techniques to help someone before, during and after a panic attack.
  • Headspace. A meditation app to help you relax, improve sleep and reduce stress.
  • Calm. A meditation app to promote better sleep and reduced anxiety. Calm teaches breath control techniques which may help with current and future panic attacks.
  • Fast Calm. This app provides constantly changing pictures as a distraction designed to quickly calm you down in times of high anxiety and stress.

To find out more about which approach to therapy might be best for you, contact us here or call 020 3930 1437 for a free phone consultation.