Panic disorder is notoriously difficult to treat. One of the issues standing in its way is that thinking about panic attacks can actually create them, or at the very least generate a fear that impacts your life. On the one hand, you need to stop thinking about panic attacks and panic disorder, but on the other hand that's difficult to do and still treat it.
The following are some of the methods people use to combat panic attacks. Some of these are more effective than others, but all of them may be considered before you treat your panic disorder.
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Methods of Panic Treatment
Panic attacks, like anxiety itself, is a very treatable condition, and with the right decision making everyone can find relief. But note that there is no one-size fits all approach to reducing anxiety. Some strategies work better for some people than others.
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Options for Reducing Panic
For this list, we're only going to share panic attack treatments that research believes can help control panic. There are hundreds of different options out there, but many of them - like homeopathic medicine, for example - have no research support and are basically just placebo. While there may be some "placebo" treatments that work, they should not be your first choice in controlling panic.
Doctors commonly prescribe medications for dealing with panic attacks. These tend to be traditional anxiety medications, with the possible exception of beta blockers which may be used to help control extreme anxiety. Common medications include:
- Benzodiazepines Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed medications. They are pure anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs), although they do cause fatigue and reduce mental clarity, much like a sedative. Benzodiazepines are addictive, tend to grow weaker over time, and can sometimes make it harder to prevent panic attacks from coming back should you ever stop taking the medicine.
- Beta-Blockers Beta Blockers may be one of the few medications that is prescribed specifically to reduce panic attacks. However, they are not actually designed for anxiety, and are usually used for panic attacks "off label." Doctors have no idea how it works, but it does seem to have a positive (although weak) effect on panic attacks. Never take any beta blocker without talking to a doctor.
- SSRIs Antidepressants like SSRIs have also been shown to benefit panic disorder. These types of medications aren't used as often as benzodiazepines, but do appear to have fewer side effects. Like benzodiazepines, they are not always effective and may make it harder for you to reduce anxiety in the future.
Other potential medications include SNRIs and Buspirone. Both of these have had limited success.
Now, it should be noted that most anxiety medications aren't always effective for panic, because panic attacks are often different than other forms of anxiety because of the way that they tend to be reaction based. Often people with anxiety become hypersensitive, which means that they are more prone to noticing any change in their body and experiencing a panic attack as a result. But there are some people that still find relief from anxiety medications, and when they do it can be a valuable way to reduce overall panic severity.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (And Other Therapies)
Panic disorder does respond well to cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT has received a considerable amount of research, and psychologists have found many potential ways to control panic attacks - both reducing their severity and their frequency - with regular visits to the therapist.
CBT uses techniques like exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring to reduce the severity of your reactions the triggers that cause panic. It's an expensive and time consuming panic treatment, but many people find it to be very effective.
However, there are also other forms of therapy as well. These include:
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Gestalt Therapy
These are examples of therapeutic methods that haven't shown much success in clinical settings but nonetheless may be the type you want to try in order to better control your panic.
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Alternative Treatment Options
Medications and therapy are the most common treatments, because these have received the most research. But many looking for a panic treatment want alternative options. The following are some examples of methods that some people use to reduce panic disorder that may or may not work, because the research hasn't yet proven or disproven their effects:
- Herbs for Panic There are currently no clear panic attack herbs. However, some people may choose kava, which is an anti-anxiety herb that compares favorably to medications like Buspar, or valerian root, because valerian is also a sedative which may reduce panic. Few other herbs have shown any benefit for anxiety or panic attacks.
- Breathing Retraining Many of a panic attack's worse symptoms actually come from poor breathing habits. That's why retraining can be highly beneficial. Retraining can take place in yoga studios (since they teach retraining) or through a trained expert. If you can start breathing in a healthier way, you may reduce the effects of panic.
- Mindfulness Training Mindfulness is similar. It teaches you how to notice your own responses to your panic attack triggers. Panic seems to be the type of condition that responds to specific triggers that a person develops. If you can notice when you have those triggers and respond to them yourself before they spiral out of control, you may be putting yourself in a better position to reduce their long term impact.
These are some of the basic examples of alternative ways to reduce panic attacks. There are others as well. Some people do acupuncture. Others do biofeedback. Others do homeopathy. None of these though seem as likely to improve a person's long term ability to control anxiety.
Finding the Right Panic Treatment
The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that panic attacks not only can be treated - they're not always that difficult to treat. As long as you commit to the right choices you can find relief from your anxiety and panic attacks.
So make sure that you've taken the time to take my free 7 minute anxiety test now, and learn more about what may be causing your panic attacks and what you can do to stop them.
Roy-Byrne, Peter P., et al. A randomized effectiveness trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication for primary care panic disorder . Archives of General Psychiatry 62.3 (2005): 290.
Roy-Byrne, Peter P., et al. Panic disorder in the primary care setting: comorbidity, disability, service utilization, and treatment . Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (1999).
Barlow, David H., et al. Behavioral treatment of panic disorder. Behavior Therapy 20.2 (1989): 261-282.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.