About four weeks ago, I had a panic attack when I was driving home from shopping. I do not get these at all, the last one I had was in 1994. But after this one, I am getting really overwhelmed when driving, going to church on the weekends, and basically being in crowded areas. It feels like the panic attack is going to come back and the only place I really do feel 100 percent safe is at home. I don't want to be homebound and want to be able to get out and enjoy my life once again. What is happening to me? This is really starting to drive me crazy as I'm not a housebound person and not being able to go out is getting to me.
Panic attacks and fear of being away from home (a "safe place") are signs of an anxiety disorder. Other forms of these include obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder, for example. What they all have in common is that the person affected feels distressed a lot of the time for no apparent reason as though the 'fear' button in their brain were being repeatedly pressed, even though there is nothing to worry about.
Anxiety disorders are probably caused by a combination of genetic vulnerability and life factors, but it's important to understand that they are very treatable. The most effective treatment is often psychological therapy, given by a doctor or psychologist. Medication to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression may also be helpful for some people for varying lengths of time.
If someone is not getting help for the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, such as panic attacks, then these can increase in severity and duration. In other words, they can start to get ingrained.
You are right, therefore, in wanting to do something about it and I strongly recommend you make an appointment to see your GP or another doctor about how you feel. Ask for a longer appointment, so there is time to explain things, and make a list of things you need to say, such as how long this has been going on, are there any triggers such as stress, is there anything else happening in your life that could be relevant, and so on. Your doctor will be able to make a diagnosis, and prepare a treatment plan, so that together you can deal with these symptoms, and you can get on with your life again.
For more information or to discuss this further, please call the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE or visit www.sane.org