Mental duress. Emotional distress. Anxiety. Depression. Panic. No matter how our emotional state of mind is described, it contributes significantly to our overall health and wellness, and our ability to function in our daily lives. So, when we are not feeling like ourselves, whether we are stressed, sad, or anxious, it shows. Episodes of extreme duress can manifest in many different ways, including shoulder pain, headache, upset stomach, and, in more severe cases, panic attacks.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Assoc. of America, about 6 million adults per year in the U.S. experience panic disorder, a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning. Importantly, panic disorder differs from normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion to the situation, which often is not truly threatening.
Panic attacks are common enough that one was central to the storyline of a recent episode of This Is Us. This hit NBC television drama is about family lives and the connections of several people who have one thing in common: the same birthday. In the Feb. 17 episode of This Is Us, the character Randall, played by actor Sterling K. Brown, experiences a panic attack.
So, what is a panic attack? It’s the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of these symptoms: palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath or smothering; feelings of choking; chest pain or discomfort; feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint; chills or heat sensations; paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations); derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself); fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’; and fear of dying.
Since many of the symptoms of panic disorder mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or physician offices, convinced they are having a life-threatening issue. Over time, a person with panic disorder can develop a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can have a snowball effect that leads to further panic attacks. This can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.
Some people who face panic attacks are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones, about what they are experiencing for fear of being seen as weak or a hypochondriac. Too often, they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could help.
The Center for Human Development works to reverse this pattern. According to my colleague, Janice Mitchell, senior clinic director at CHD, there is no stigma in asking for help — indeed, it is a sign of strength. “Those who struggle and have the courage to seek assistance are inherently brave,” she said. “There is a feeling of trust that builds between a therapist and an individual engaged in the therapeutic process. Featuring a panic episode like the one on This Is Us calls much-needed attention to the importance of normalizing concerns which once were kept hidden. Speaking about the once-unspeakable is allowing individuals to understand that there is no need to suffer or to carry the burden of emotional distress alone.”
Anyone suffering from emotional distress may call CHD at (844) CHD-HELP. Whatever their emotional concern may be, and whether they need help for themselves, their friends, or loved ones, this free call can be a positive first step toward getting support.