Living with panic attacks can make you feel incredibly alone. In fact, a common symptom of panic disorder is agoraphobia, which is the fear of being out of your comfort area (usually the home, but possibly the office as well). Those that have panic attacks also often feel shame and embarrassment over their disorder, which unfortunately can increase your panic attack severity.
Panic attack support groups are one method of trying to overcome panic attacks, and it may actually be a very useful one. But part of the benefit of panic attack support groups comes from how you use it.
Set an Example For Your Support Group
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Panic Attack and Support
Support groups are actually very beneficial for those with panic attacks. That's because one of the best ways to reduce the severity and frequency of your attacks is with knowledge. Learn even more about your panic attacks by taking my free anxiety test now.
The reason knowledge is so powerful is because during a panic attack, your brain is, in many ways, your enemy. The anxiety rush you experience convinces you that something is wrong with your health, or that your symptoms are unusual and indicative of something terrible happening.
In reality, they're the result of anxiety (and related symptoms like hyperventilation). So by participating in a community of others, you can learn more about your symptoms, and when you have a panic attack you'll have a bit of an easier time controlling the mental fears. It usually won't stop the attack, but it can make the attack less fear inducing.
Where to Find Panic Attack Support Groups
Every city is different, unfortunately, and there aren't any national organizations that try to gather them in any specific city. You can try MeetUp.com, which is a popular website for creating groups of like-minded individuals. You can also search local newspapers, and contact psychologist that specialize in panic disorder to see if they either run them themselves or know of any in the area.
Don't be afraid to start a support group yourself either. Starting a group on Meetup.com is free, and you'll often find many people that could use your support. You can also talk to a psychologist about them starting one, and seeing if they have any interest in putting something together.
Online Support Groups
There are also online panic attack support groups that may be useful as well. There are many online communities that provide information on living with panic attacks, and the opportunity to interact with others. These can be great places for those that don't have a local support group. However, because they take place online, a few issues should be noted:
- Internet Anonymity The common rules of the internet apply. If there is something that can upset you, someone will say it. "Trolling" and other forms of hate speech are common on all sites, including support groups, and so if you're particularly sensitive to this you may want to be careful on them. Furthermore, people online have a tendency to talk as though they're experts even though they're not experts. They may recommend something to you that doesn't work or is harmful, and you need to be willing to research it yourself.
- Drive By Commenting It should also be noted that online, people have a tendency to be more selfish. Most people sign up looking for validation for their worst symptoms, and leave immediately afterward. Often little discussion will take place, and people may even avoid your own posts asking for help (or comment in a way that brings the attention back to them, without necessarily trying to help you). This tends to be less common at in-person support groups.
- Social Events Are Helpful Finally the internet doesn't provide you with the social support that you get from an in person support group. Social support can be a powerful tool for combatting anxiety, and missing out on that in favor of an online group may not be worthwhile, especially if you've been having trouble spending time with others since your panic attacks.
So keep these in mind before you consider an online support group. They're often better than no support group at all, but they are fraught with problems that could affect how much you benefit from the support of others.
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How to Get the Most From a Support Group
Moving forward, however, one of the issues at play is how to get the most from a support group when you decide to enroll in one. Joining a panic disorder support group is great, but unfortunately many people use it for the wrong reasons, or don't participate in a way that will help them heal.
Consider the following tips to ensure that you find a support group beneficial, and that you also help make it better for others:
Don't Use It to Justify Fears
Panic attacks cause a number of health worries. In fact, one might say that health anxiety is one of the most common symptoms, because panic attacks tend to mimic various health disorders. Far too many people use support groups as a way to verify that their fears are real. They pick the strangest symptom they can think of and subconsciously hope that the person will tell them they have no idea what it is.
It's a strange symptom of panic, but it's a very real one. You have to fight the urge to use these support groups as a way to justify your fears. You need to focus on treatment - understand that you have panic disorder, and look for ways to help yourself cure/fight your anxiety rather than do things to contribute to it.
Support groups require a community. Ideally, you'll have an expert acting as leader, but in some cases that may not be possible. No matter what, the environment has to feel supportive, and that means you cannot just be there for yourself.
When you learn something or when you have your own thoughts, make sure that you're helping others. Give your advice, listen to what they are experiencing, and do your best to really let the person know that you're there for them if they need you. It helps make support groups better, but perhaps more than that, it encourages them to support you and also ensures that you're always thinking about recovery.
Partner It With a Plan
You should also make sure that you're never "just" doing a support group. You need to also make sure that you're working to reduce your anxiety and stop your panic attacks forever. After all, the more you work on your own anxiety the more you'll be able to help others.
Make sure that you are committed to some type of plan - whether it's therapy, medicine, at home plans, or some type of non-traditional support. You need to make sure that you're working on your anxiety every day in order to give yourself the best opportunity to both benefit from a support group and find the support group meaningful.
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