Panic disorder is a mental health condition that often results in self-seclusion. It is important for people living with the disorder to know how it affects them.

Anyone who struggles with panic disorder can attest to how difficult living with panic disorder can be. Anxiety is a normal part of our emotional experience in life; it is useful when there is imminent danger that requires quick action and fast thinking to remain safe. For people with panic disorder, experiencing regular anxiety and panic are a part of their daily life.

What Do Panic Attacks Feel Like?

People who have not experienced a panic attack may wonder what panic attacks feel like. Imagine suddenly feeling your heart pounding hard and fast for no reason, you begin to sweat and your hands begin to shake. It seems as though there is something physically wrong within your body and the fear causes your mind to race and you start to wonder if you might be dying. That is what a panic attack feels like.

Panic attack symptoms can vary, but most commonly, a feeling of depersonalization, rapid heartbeat, shakiness and dizziness are part of the experience. Some people who have panic attacks can experience nausea, hot flashes, chills, a sense of dread or doom and numb, tingly feelings in their body. One of the challenges of having panic disorder is the overlap of these symptoms with other health conditions. Panic symptoms can mimic heart conditions, gastrointestinal illness and many other imminent risk illnesses, making it difficult to discern a panic attack from a medical crisis.

How Does Panic Disorder Affect Daily Activities?

Life with panic disorder is challenging. The nature of the disorder is sporadic and causes one to feel as if their physical and mental wellness is deteriorating rapidly. People with panic disorder frequently become so burdened by their condition that they withdraw from much of their lives and avoid potential triggers for panic. Since the triggers often involve stimuli outside of the home (grocery stores, work, the community) the avoidance of these situations tends to reduce the person’s exposure to others and limits their involvement in the world.

There isn’t an exact explanation of how panic disorder affects one’s life, but for those struggling with it, the effects of panic attacks on health and quality of life are profound. Some people with panic disorder are unable to go into the community to get groceries or other necessary household items, and many more are unable to work as a result of their condition. Panic disorder commonly impacts sleep patterns, the gastrointestinal system and immune health.

The Importance of Proper Diagnosis

A panic disorder diagnosis might not seem like a positive outcome, but the benefit of having the condition diagnosed is the likelihood of a helpful treatment being found. When people are left undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed, the condition can worsen and the impact on their quality of life becomes even greater. A habit that people with untreated panic disorder has is to avoid distressing events and circumstances, which results in greater isolation from others. Being properly diagnosed by a medical professional allows a person to better become self-aware of how the disorder affects them and make reasonable adjustments as needed.

Reducing Your Risk of Panic Attacks

People struggling with panic disorder often wonder how to reduce panic attacks and what are some effective panic disorder treatments? Treating panic disorder usually involves identifying triggers, processing the impact of symptoms and working on changing one’s relationship with the disorder through cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. During treatment, people with panic disorder work with a counselor to reduce the impact of their symptoms.

Panic disorder can also be treated with medication. Some medications for panic disorder are taken daily, while others are PRN (taken as needed). Often a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best course of action to treat panic disorder. It is also important for people struggling with panic disorder to have natural support in daily life. Connecting with loved ones and letting them know about your condition is important in starting to manage the disorder. Ask loved ones to check in regularly and encourage you to spend more time socializing.

Unfortunately, sometimes panic disorder becomes such a burden that people resort to using substances to manage their symptoms.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Panic attacks and panic disorder.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Anxiety and physical illness.” Updated May 9, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.