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How to Treat Panic Disorders

Panic is a natural part of human life. You can panic if you see a spider on your bed or feel a moment of panic when you can’t find your phone, but having a panic attack or panic disorder is something completely different. Panic disorders can disrupt your life and make it nearly impossible to participate in different aspects of living without constantly being in fear of having another attack.

What Is a Panic Disorder?

A panic disorder is a mental health condition where a person continually has bouts or episodes of intense fear, panic, or anxiety. These periods are called panic attacks and can occur without warning and often aren’t caused by any specific trigger.1

Panic attacks can last for anything between a few minutes to several hours, and the irregularity of their occurrence means you never quite know when to expect one. If left untreated, panic attacks can lead to severe phobias of situations or things perceived to be triggers.

Panic Attack Symptoms

The symptoms of a panic attack can be frightening in their own right, and the effects of such an attack brought on by a panic disorder include:2

Physical Symptoms

  • Elevated heart rate and chest pain that may make you think you’re having a heart attack
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea

Psychological Symptoms

  • Feeling out of control
  • Fear of death
  • Feeling like you’re going crazy
  • Overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • Inability to think clearly

When Does a Panic Attack Become a Panic Disorder?

Panic disorders are classified as repeatedly experiencing panic attacks to the point where you continually fear having another one. This fear then increases the likelihood of you experiencing yet another panic attack. Panic disorders can be diagnosed by a licensed mental health care provider.

What Are the Causes of Panic Attacks?

There is no agreed-upon cause of panic attacks, although some scientists believe it could be genetic. This means having a family member or parent with one or more anxiety disorders could increase your chance of having a panic attack at some point in your life. Another reason panic attacks occur may be due to the anxiety caused by the side effects of certain medications.

How to Treat Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

There are many recommended methods of treatment for panic disorders; however, following sound medical advice is recommended. Your doctor may advise you to use one or more of the following treatment options.

Medication

Medication can be used to treat the long-term or acute symptoms of panic disorders. These medications include:3

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a class of antidepressants generally seen as safe and effective treatment options for panic disorders. The most commonly prescribed SSRIs include fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are a different type of antidepressant approved by the FDA for treating panic disorders. The most commonly prescribed SNRI is venlafaxine.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are sedatives that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They are FDA-approved to treat panic disorders, but the use of these drugs is usually left as a last resort, owing to their potential for abuse and addiction. The most common benzodiazepines are alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Whether you use an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication like benzodiazepine to manage your panic disorder depends on the best judgment of your doctor, who may also switch you between these drugs should they not work as expected or produce too many adverse side effects.

Therapy

Psychotherapy is an essential part of any panic disorder treatment plan. A therapist can do more than just listen to your experience and help you understand exactly what a panic disorder is and how to manage it. Highly beneficial therapies for panic disorders include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that helps identify the thought and belief patterns that lead to recurring panic attacks. Often people who have a panic disorder have misconceptions about themselves and their condition, which can exacerbate their symptoms.

CBT often uses desensitization, which helps individuals overcome the fear associated with having a panic attack, understand the symptoms are temporary, and reinforce the idea that a panic attack is not life-threatening. This form of therapy can help reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks and their symptoms.

Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (PFPP)

PFPP is another highly effective method of treatment for panic disorders. It aims to discover the underlying anxiety or fear caused by events in your past that may contribute to your condition in the present. This form of treatment is especially effective if there are forgotten or subconscious conflicts that may have directly or indirectly led to the disorder.

Can Panic Disorders Be Prevented?

People with panic disorders cannot necessarily prevent them without medical treatment, but there are ways to make them less intense and learn to cope with them.4

Steps to Reduce the Frequency or Intensity of Panic Attacks

  1. Use relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises to help relax your body and ease stress.
  2. Get regular exercise, which can help you clear your mind and find an outlet for anxiety or fear.
  3. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine or tobacco, all of which can trigger panic attacks due to their stimulating effect on your body.
  4. Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Fatigue and the emotional effects of not getting a good night’s rest can worsen your anxiety during the day.

Although these methods work exceptionally well for some, they are listed here for educational purposes only and are not meant to treat or cure any mental health condition.

Getting Treatment for Panic Disorders

If a loved one or you have been diagnosed or think you may have a panic disorder, getting medical assistance and treatment is essential. At Balance Treatment Center, we offer a range of holistic, evidence-based treatment programs, including CBT, to help individuals identify and address the factors that contribute to their disorder. For more information, and to get the advice you need today, contact our team at 855 414-8100.

Sources:

  1. https://familydoctor.org/condition/panic-disorder/
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376027
  4. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0215/p733.html

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