What Is Panic Disorder? Symptoms Explained After Nadiya Hussain Opens Up About Condition

'My whole life revolves around not falling apart.'

Nadiya Hussain has opened up about suffering from panic disorder, which she said affects her every day of her life.

“My whole life revolves around not falling apart,” the former Great British Bake Off winner said.

“I describe it as a monster. Some days the monster shouts in my face, no matter where I turn he will keep shouting at me, I can’t get him out of my face.

“Other days he’s behind me and he’ll tap me on the shoulder a little bit here and there through the day and I can ignore him completely. Other days I can put him in my pocket. He’s always there.”

If the baker’s comments sound all too familiar to you, here’s what you need to know about panic disorder.

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What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a mental health condition that can lead to a person experiencing intense feelings of stress and anxiety.

“We all worry from time to time and this is a perfectly normal thing to do. This is very different however to the debilitating effects of panic disorder,” Cal Strode, senior media officer at the Mental Health Foundation told HuffPost UK.

“Panic disorder is when people experience recurring and regular panic attacks, sometimes with no obvious trigger.

“These panic attacks can be terrifying, people often report an overwhelming sense of fear, physical symptoms can include nausea, sweating, trembling and heart palpitations.

“These attacks in themselves create a level of anxiety about their reoccurrence that can prevent people from enjoying day to day life.”

According to the NHS, while one in 10 people experience occasional panic attacks, which are usually triggered by a stressful event, panic disorder affects around two in every 100 people and it’s about twice as common in women as it is in men.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

According to the mental health charity Mind, a panic attack is “an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement”.

Attacks tend to last for five to 20 minutes, although some people may experience symptoms for up to an hour.

Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

:: A pounding heartbeat

:: Feeling faint

:: Sweating

:: Nausea

:: Chest pains

:: Feeling unable to breathe

:: Shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly

:: Feeling like you’re not connected to your body.

How to cope with a panic attack.

Speaking to the NHS, Professor Paul Salkovskis, professor of clinical psychology and applied science at the University of Bath, said it can help to notice and accept feelings of a panic attack for what they are.

“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening. Tell yourself that the symptoms you’re experiencing are caused by anxiety,” he said.

“Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, don’t leave the situation until the anxiety has subsided.

“Confront your fear. If you don’t run away from it, you’re giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing’s going to happen.”

Similarly Barry McDonagh, author of the book DARE, which is about overcoming anxiety and panic attacks, said it can help to remind yourself of any panic attacks you had in the past and acknowledge that you survived them.

“Tell yourself you are excited by this anxious feeling,” he said.

“Fear and excitement are similar states, so flip your fear into excitement.”

McDonagh belives that “running towards panic” and almost encouraging it actually “pops the bubble of fear”, whereas trying to fight panic only makes it worse.

Alternatively No Panic, a UK charity helping people to cope with anxiety disorders, has an online playlist you can listen to if you’re having a panic attack, designed to reassure sufferers and ease symptoms.

How to treat panic disorder.

According to Strode “anyone experiencing symptoms of a panic attack should not delay seeking help from their GP.”

If you’re diagnosed with panic disorder after experiencing regular panic attacks, your GP may refer you for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which involves having regular sessions with a therapist.

“The therapist may discuss with you how you react when you have a panic attack and what you think about when you’re experiencing an attack,” the NHS website explains.

“Once you and your therapist have identified any negative thoughts and beliefs, you can work on replacing them with more realistic and balanced ones. Your therapist can also teach you ways of changing your behaviour, making it easier for you to deal with future panic attacks.”

Alternatively you may be prescribed medication to help you manage symptoms of panic disorder such as an antidepressant or pregabalin (which is used to treat epilepsy and has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety). You can find out more about medication for panic disorder by visiting a medical professional.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk
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