What are the long-term effects of panic attacks?

Experiencing repeated panic attacks over a long period drains you physically and emotionally and can significantly negatively impact your work and social life.

My personal experience meant I had to come out of my job for a few months to recover, but in hindsight, my work was negatively affected before I took time off.

In this article, I want to talk to you about the long-term effect of panic, focusing on

  • physical health
  • psychological impact
  • work/educational, and
  • personal life implications of repeated panic attacks.

Before concluding the article, I shall discuss ways to mitigate the long-term effects, and how to seek more help should you need it.

This article will not discuss the mechanics of panic attacks; if you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading my complete guide to panic disorder for more in-depth explanations.

Impact on your physical health

If you have panic attacks, you will be familiar with how they make you feel physically, such as dizzy, shaky and rapid heart rate. I am not going to discuss the symptoms in this article, but you can read what happens in your body when anxious in this article. Instead, I want to examine the less subtle ways your health can be affected.

I had repeated panic attacks, often several a day, but my worst time was at night. My heart rate was rapid, and I could hear my heartbeat (thump) in my pillow. This meant that in addition to the physical toll of panic attacks, I was getting very little sleep, which continued for several months.

According to NIH, sleep deficiency, in addition to affecting work and day-to-day life, is also linked to chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Psychological impact

When I speak about the psychological impact, I refer to how panic attacks affect your psychological well-being. For example, before panic attacks, I would not have experienced the level of fear that I did when they were at their height. Nor would I have limited myself so much socially due to this fear, which meant I was getting increasingly cut off from friends and family, which can act as a psychological buffer.

This fear, for me, led to panic disorder. For many others, their mood gets affected, in that it dips or worse, they may get diagnosed with depression. I was fortunate that I did not end up with a dual diagnosis.

Work-life

Its easier to discuss your work or educational life, when I split this into two parts

  • working while having panic attacks, and
  • leaving work/school due to panic attacks
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Retrain Your Brain

to Stop Panic Attacks.

Based on Dr Ryan’s private practice

Working/attending education while having panic attacks

Tell your employer or college that you are struggling if you feel strong enough. This will help in so many ways. They can’t help you if they do not know what is going on.

Having to be in a place of work, five days a week at a set time, attend meetings and meet deadlines is extremely difficult if you are having panic attacks.

I once interviewed for a psychology position in Dubin and hyperventilated through most of it. If I had dared to say I was having a panic attack, it would have taken away the fear and spelt out the obvious. I didn’t get the job, but I was number two on the panel!

If you can’t find a way to tell what is happening to you, you are, in effect, ‘passing’ as your old you. People will expect what they always expected of you, but at times you will not be able to meet your demands.

Leaving work or college

If your panic attacks interrupt your daily life too much, you might have to leave work or college altogether. This happened to me; I had to take a few months off. I was about to say there is no shame in that, but I did not tell people what happened at the time. This was about 15 years ago when mental health was not in the spotlight the way it is today, but I still appreciate there is still, unfortunately, the stigma attached to mental health.

So. You may lose your job or, at the least, take time off. Panic attacks are a serious business.

Personal Implications

Panic attacks make your life small. In my experience, I quickly went from full-time employment, walking every day and dancing several times a week to nothing.

I stopped dancing, stopped walking unless panic fuelled and eventually had to come out of work.

How to lessen the impact

There is only one way to mitigate to long-term effects of panic attacks: to get help.

How to get help

Start with self-help and work your way up the medical/psychological ladder. For example, if self-help does not work, look into therapy; if therapy does not work, ask about medication, but make sure to do something.

Self-help

Whether you try my self-help course or read about panics in books, it doesn’t matter, as long as you make a start.

If you need to meet with a therapist, speak with your local GP for a list of reputable therapists in your area, or ask them about medication options if you have tried talking therapy.

Outlook

People recover from panic disorder and do not have to suffer long-term consequences. I did. It took time, but it is very doable, once you are ready to seek help.

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