Treatment Options to Help Manage Panic Disorder

upset young man sitting against wall with head on hands

PeopleImages / Getty Images 

People with panic disorder frequently want to know if there is any technique or medication that can completely rid them of symptoms. The truth is that panic disorder can never be entirely cured. However, it can be effectively managed to the point that it no longer significantly impairs your life.

One reason why there is no permanent cure is that panic disorder varies greatly from person to person. What works for one person may not be effective at all for another. But even though there is not a magic bullet to wipe out every case, through treatment, patience, and persistence, you can find the methods that help you cope with panic disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A mental health professional can assist you in developing ways to change your thinking and behaviors that allow for lasting relief. Different types of psychotherapy have been shown to be helpful in panic disorder. One of these is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a method that includes learning ways to relax, change unhelpful thinking patterns, manage stress, and increase self-confidence.

Progressive or gradual exposure is a CBT technique in which therapists slowly introduce a patient to their fears and then teach them to relax while they experience anxiety. For example, if your panic is induced by driving cars on the freeway, your therapist may have you begin by simply imagining cars driving on a freeway. You will then be instructed to keep this image in mind as they guide you into noticing your tension.

This focus on uneasy feelings is followed by guided attention to relaxing the body and mind. Over a number of sessions, the therapist will progressively increase your exposure to your fear, from visualizing yourself driving on the freeway, to being a passenger in a car on the freeway, to driving the car yourself. While moving through these phases, you will continue to learn how to remain calm and manage feelings of panic.

Be sure to speak openly and honestly with your therapist or mental health professional. This helps them understand your symptoms in order to help you progress.

Panic Disorder Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

Self-Help

There are numerous self-help resources that address issues related to anxiety and panic disorder. These are intended to help you manage panic on your own. Common self-help strategies include:

  • Relaxation techniques, such as stretching and deep breathing
  • Positive affirmations and self-talk
  • Peaceful and reassuring visualizations
  • Journaling and other writing exercises
  • Expressing feelings through art
  • Transforming a negative belief system to more constructive and optimistic views
  • Lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, limiting the use of caffeine, eating a nutritious diet, and exercising

Medication

Treating panic disorder with medication is often recommended when symptoms persist despite efforts to control them through therapy and self-help strategies. Medication may also be suggested when panic disorder has become so extreme that it affects daily functioning.

Antidepressants

Medical professionals typically prescribe an antidepressant for panic disorder, usually from the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram). These drugs can relieve feelings of anxiety and reduce depression symptoms, which often coexist with panic disorder.

Common side effects of these medicines include sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal discomfort and sleep issues. If you are considering antidepressants, review the possible side effects and any other concerns with your doctor. Antidepressants can take up to several weeks to start working and they should not be discontinued abruptly.

Tranquilizers

Benzodiazepine tranquilizers are another class of drugs that can ease anxiety and alleviate panic. Doctors may prescribe Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam) for people with panic disorder to provide an immediate reduction in anxiety symptoms.

There is some potential for abuse with these medications. They may also lead to physical dependence if they are taken over a long enough period of time.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, there is not one approach that works for everyone. Give different methods a try to determine what works for you. Even though there is not a cure for panic disorder, you can still experience long-term improvements by finding the combination of treatments that is effective for you.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Taylor CB. Panic disorderBMJ. 2006;332(7547):951-955. doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7547.951

  2. Otte C. Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: Current state of the evidenceDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011;13(4):413-421.

  3. Sars D, van Minnen A. On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders: A survey among cognitive behavioural therapists in the NetherlandsBMC Psychol. 2015;3(1):26. doi:10.1186/s40359-015-0083-2

  4. Arikian SR, Gorman JM. A review of the diagnosis, pharmacologic treatment, and economic aspects of anxiety disordersPrim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;3(3):110-117. doi:10.4088/pcc.v03n0302

  5. Griffin CE 3rd, Kaye AM, Bueno FR, Kaye AD. Benzodiazepine pharmacology and central nervous system-mediated effectsOchsner J. 2013;13(2):214-223.

Additional Reading