Let’s see what panic disorder is and what to do about it , its manifestations and symptoms, and why it’s important to see a psychologist if you experience this psychological alteration in the first person.

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a psychopathological syndrome that is characterized by episodes of acute anxiety that manifest themselves repeatedly, spontaneously, abruptly and unexpectedly . The anxiety or panic attacks may have different durations, from a few minutes to an hour, and reach their maximum intensity in a short period of time.

When this psychological alteration arises, the person feels in an unexpected way an intense experience with a significant level of anguish and discomfort, of psychological and physical fear . The person with panic attacks is usually afraid of losing control, of dying and going mad. Panic attacks are not related to a specific object or situation.

Often these people are afraid that they will have other panic attacks in similar situations. In addition, panic attacks are often associated with agoraphobia, since panic disorder is related to the fear of facing certain situations from which it would be difficult to escape or get out , or in which one would feel ashamed to show the symptoms or suffering derived from one’s interpretation of reality.

According to the psychologist Florencia Stolo, from the Málaga Psychologists’ Office PsicoAbreu, panic disorder is based on fear of a possible attack of very high anxiety and anguish, an experience in which the person himself believes that he is not able to control the attacks and has an external locus of the situation itself (that is, an interpretation of the situation in which it is seen as something external to oneself and uncontrollable, which sometimes happens to him). The psychologist states that by giving the patient the capacity to control their own emotions and crises, they are able to reduce them and control them.


The most frequent symptoms of panic disorder are the following.

  • Tachycardia: the heart’s going faster.
  • Palpitations: the heart beats stronger. The heart “flips” and blood pressure rises.
  • Feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Pressure or pain in the chest.
  • Tingling or numbness of the extremities.
  • Hypersudation (excessive sweating)
  • Tremors.
  • Instability, fainting or dizziness.
  • Nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • Hot flushes or chills.
  • Fear of losing control or consciousness, or of imminent death.

As less frequent symptoms and in moments of great anxiety one can experience depersonalization (feeling of strangeness to the environment around you or to one’s own body) or unrealization (alteration of the perception or experience of the environment that is interpreted as unreal or strange).

What to do if you have panic disorder?

The most important thing is to see a health psychologist specialized in treating anxiety to evaluate the specific case. Once in consultation, the psychologist will probably use the following tools and techniques.

1. Psychoeducation

The patient will be told what is wrong with him/her, what the panic attacks consist of , their symptoms and all the events surrounding the anxiety attacks that have already occurred. You will also be explained how the panic attacks and your fear of them are affecting your day-to-day life and your relationships with others.

It is helpful for the patient to understand how to interpret the physical sensations they experience in a catastrophic way.

2. Relaxation techniques

Various relaxation techniques will be explained to the patient to give him/her tools with which to relax and to increase his/her feeling of control over the crises and over everything that happens , which will help him/her feel more secure.

Relaxation will allow the rest of the cognitive and behavioral techniques to be carried out, which will help the person control the anxiety crises to a greater extent. For example: Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique, diaphragmatic breathing, Schultz’s progressive relaxation…

3. Cognitive techniques

In order to identify and know the dysfunctional thoughts characteristic of the patient in the most anxious situations, it is useful to fill in a self-registration. Cognitive techniques are also useful to be able to abandon security behaviours, which allow the person to feel safe in different environments without the need for these maladaptive actions. For example, among the cognitive techniques that the psychologist can use are Ellis’ A-B-C model, cognitive restructuring, Socratic discourse…

4. Techniques to increase self-esteem and self-concept

They are to make the patient feel more secure in the control of the situations around him and to improve his social relations and his relations with his environment.

5. Other psychotherapeutic tools

Other tools or procedures can be used such as Mindfulness, EMDR Therapy (Desensitization and Reprocessing through eye movements)… that accelerate or complement all of the above.

The Malaga Psychologists’ Office PsicoAbreu has psychologists specialized in the treatment of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, who will be able to help you recover your day-to-day life.