Mary was a 23-year-old woman with a family history of schizophrenia. At the age of 18, Mary suffered a bad viral complaint and one evening when she was feeling particularly under the weather, she started to become very anxious about her blocked throat, her headache, and her fuzzy thinking. The anxiety seemed to build and build until Mary went into a state where she felt unable to breathe and thought she was going to faint. When asked about it afterwards, Mary reported that she had been convinced that she was going mad.
As we have mentioned above, panic disorder is usually characterised by recurrent unexpected panic attacks, such as Mary's, followed by persistent concern about having additional attacks, worry about the implications of the attack, and/or a significant change in behaviour relating to the attacks. Individuals experiencing such panic attacks may begin to avoid situations or scenarios in which a panic would prove incapacitating or humiliating. Often such avoidance becomes widespread and the individual presents with agoraphobic symptoms.
Panic disorder is a relatively common condition. A recent summary of studies that investigated 12-month prevalence estimates it to range from 0.7% to 2.2% with a median value of 1.8% (Goodwin et al., 2005). Panic disorder is at least twice as common in females and is highly co-morbid with other disorders. Some 75% of individuals with agoraphobia with panic attacks are female (e.g., Bourdon et al., 1988) and the disorder usually develops during late adolescence or early adulthood, especially in association with negative life events. Panic disorder is characterised by a variable, usually chronic course (e.g., Faravelli & Paionni, 2001).
Panic was first claimed as a discrete anxiety presentation in response to the work of Klein (1981). His research in psychobiology led him to propose that panic attacks and non-panic-related anxiety are two distinct pathophysiological syndromes. Klein's work has inspired a whole body of theoretical and empirical research focusing on the idea that panic disorder originates from a genetically transmitted neuro-chemical abnormality which presents as a sudden surge of autonomic arousal and fear symptoms. However, later theoretical work in psychology (e.g., Clark, 1986) has suggested that such biological hypotheses represent inadequate explanations of the phenomenology of panic. Consequently, a number of psychological theories of panic have been proposed, alternatively emphasising personality, conditioning, and information-processing analyses of the disorder. Furthermore, a considerable body of psychological research into the processes underlying panic has been carried out (see e.g., Barlow, 2002; Craske & Waters, 2005, for reviews).
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This guide Don't Panic has tips and additional information on what you should do when you are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. With so much going on in the world today with taking care of your family, working full time, dealing with office politics and other things, you could experience a serious meltdown. All of these things could at one point cause you to stress out and snap.