Treatment Options to Help Manage Panic Disorder

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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 no one can claim to have a cure is that panic disorder varies greatly from person to person. What works for one panic suffer may not be effective at all for another. Even though there is not a magic bullet to wipe out every case of panic, through treatment, patience, and persistence, you can find what methods help you handle this disorder. Listed below are the most common sources for coping 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. There are different types of psychotherapy that have been shown to be helpful in panic disorder. One of these is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic method that includes learning ways to relax, change unhelpful thinking patterns, manage stress, and increase self-confidence in an effort to cope with panic disorder.

Progressive or gradual exposure is another CBT technique used by therapists to slowly introduce a patient to their fears and panic followed by teaching them to relax while they experience anxiety. For example, if your panic is induced by driving on a freeway, your therapist may have you begin by simply imaging cars driving on s freeway. You will then be instructed to keep this image in mind as he or she guides you into noticing your tension.

This focus on uneasy feelings is followed by guided attention to relaxing the body and mind all why keeping the worrisome image in mind. Over a number of sessions, the therapist will progressively increase your exposure to your fear, such as visualizing yourself driving on the freeway, to actually being a passenger in a car on the freeway, to eventually driving the car yourself. While moving step-by-step through these changes, 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, as this will help her/him in understanding your symptoms in order to help you progress.

Panic Disorder Discussion Guide

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There are numerous self-help resources out there that address issues related to anxiety and panic disorder. These guides are intended to provide you with information on ways to manage panic on your own. Typical self-help strategies include:

  • Relaxation techniques, such as stretching and deep breathing
  • Positive affirmations and self-talk
  • Creating peaceful and reassuring visualizations
  • Journaling and other writing exercises
  • Using creative art methods to express feelings
  • Proper nutrition and exercise
  • Transforming one’s negative belief system to more constructive and optimistic views
  • Lifestyle recommendations, such as getting enough sleep and limiting the use of caffeine


Treating panic disorder with medication is often recommended when symptoms persist despite one’s best efforts to control them through therapy and self-help strategies. Medication may also be suggested when panic disorder has become so extreme that it impacts someone's functioning. Medication may be prescribed for more limited periods of time and likely will not need to be taken forever.

Medical professionals, such as a family physician or psychiatrist, will typically prescribe an antidepressant for panic disorder. A class of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, are usually prescribed. These SSRI’s include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram). They can relieve feelings of anxiety and can reduce any depression symptoms, which often co-exists with panic disorder.

Naturally, these medications will have some drawbacks. Some common side effects include sexual dysfunction, weight changes, and sleep issues. If you are considering antidepressants, be sure to review the possible side-effects and potential concerns with your doctor. Antidepressants can take around 2 to 4 weeks to start working and they cannot be discontinued abruptly. When you are ready to discontinue use, your doctor will need to slowly take you off of the prescription by steadily decreasing your dosage.

Benzodiazepines tranquilizers are another class of drugs that are also used to ease anxiety and alleviate panic. Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam) are frequently prescribed for panic sufferers to provide an immediate reduction in anxiety symptoms.

There is some potential for abuse with these medications. Such medications are also recognized to create tolerance, meaning that over time, higher doses will be needed in order to get the same effects.

Another difficulty with these medications is that once a person is taken off of them, their anxiety can actually come back even worse than ever before. Your possible questions and concerns should always be discussed with your doctor before beginning any prescription.

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

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Article Sources

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Additional Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

  • Bourne, E. J. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 4th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2005.

  • Hofmann S.G., & Smits, J.A. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Anxiety Disorders: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 69 (2008):621-632.