Panic Disorder Treatment

How to Treat Panic Attacks Effectively

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Panic disorder and agoraphobia are very treatable conditions. People who have been diagnosed with panic disorder can be effectively treated through medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of these two approaches.

This article will discuss effective treatment options for panic disorder, as well as lifestyle changes you can implement to manage your symptoms.

Diagnosis

A mental healthcare professional can evaluate you for panic disorder. Before making a determination, they will check to see if you meet the diagnostic criteria for the condition. 

Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks that are often followed by a persistent worry about future attacks or a significant, potentially harmful behavioral change that arises due to the condition.

Your doctor will also check to see if your panic attacks can be explained by another mental health condition or if they could be a side effect of a drug or medication.

Medications

There are many medications that can safely and effectively treat panic disorder. Medications for panic disorder fall into one of two categories:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs

These medications can be prescribed to lessen the severity of panic attacks and reduce general feelings of anxiety.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants were originally used to treat mood disorders, such as depression and depressive symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. It was later found that antidepressants could also help treat anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.

Antidepressant medications have been found to effectively decrease the intensity of panic attacks and overall anxiety.

Antidepressants are also often used when a person has a co-occurring condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. The most commonly prescribed medications for panic disorder belong to a popular class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Like all antidepressants, SSRIs affect the chemical messengers in the brain, called neurotransmitters. In particular, SSRIs target the neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is associated with mood. SSRIs help balance a person’s serotonin levels, which can then help regulate mood, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep.

Research has found that SSRIs can assist in reducing the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. Some of the most common SSRIs include:

There are some side effects associated with SSRIs.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medications, sometimes referred to as tranquilizers, are recommended for their fast-acting relief and sedating effect. These medications slow down the central nervous system, which can make you feel calmer and more relaxed. By helping someone feel less fearful and anxious, anti-anxiety medications can greatly reduce the symptoms of panic disorder.

Benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed class of anti-anxiety medication that can help reduce the severity of panic attacks. These medications have a sedative effect that can help quickly reduce panic symptoms and elicit a more relaxed state.

Some of the most popular benzodiazepines include:

There are some risks and potential side effects associated with these medications, including dependence and misuse. However, benzodiazepines have been found to be a safe and effective medication when used appropriately in the treatment of panic disorder.

Recap

SSRIs and benzodiazepines are effective options for treating panic disorder. Both medications can reduce the severity of panic attacks, but benzodiazepines are typically faster-acting and used on a short-term basis whereas anti-depressants may be prescribed more long-term.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy has also been found to effectively treat panic disorder and agoraphobia. Through psychotherapy, a mental health specialist can assist you in working through unresolved issues and feelings. Additionally, a therapist can help you develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving that will help you deal with your symptoms.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of psychotherapy that has been shown to effectively help treat panic disorder. One of the main goals of CBT is to develop coping skills by changing negative thinking patterns and unhealthy behaviors. For example, many people with panic disorder hold negative beliefs, or cognitive distortions, about themselves and the world around them.

This faulty thinking often contributes to unhelpful behaviors, such as avoiding feared situations. CBT may help you overcome negative thinking patterns and develop healthier ways to manage your condition.

Desensitization is a popular CBT technique used to help people overcome the feelings of fear and anxiety that are often associated with panic attacks.

Through desensitization, your therapist gradually introduces you to anxiety-provoking situations while teaching you how to regain control of your anxiety. Gradually, you are introduced to more fear-inducing situations while you continue to learn how to manage your panic.

The aim is to unlearn your fear and take on new ways of thinking and behaving. For instance, someone who has a fear of flying may begin desensitization by working on relaxation techniques while facing something that only causes a small amount of nervousness, such as images of airplanes.

They may eventually advance to more fear-inducing situations, such as going to the airport or boarding an airplane. With each situation, they learn to manage their panic symptoms. Through continued practice, desensitization may help them overcome their fear of flying.

Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy (PFPP) is another therapeutic method used in the treatment of panic disorder. This form of psychotherapy aims to uncover past experiences and emotional conflicts that may have influenced the development of your panic and anxiety.

PFPP helps you recognize unconscious conflicts—particularly around anger—and resolve these conflicts in less frightening and more constructive ways. By coming to better terms with certain conflicts, fantasies, and behaviors, you may be able to overcome your issues with panic disorder.

Recap

Therapies like CBT and PFPP are effective treatments for panic disorder. CBT focuses on changing negative thinking patterns and developing healthy coping skills, while PFPP is intended to help you resolve unconscious emotional conflicts.

Combination of Medication and Psychotherapy

Your doctor may determine that a combination of therapy and medication is best suited for you. Typically, this approach involves using SSRIs together with a form of therapy like CBT. This combination has been shown to be effective at treating panic disorder. Benzodiazepines may also be used as a short-term treatment to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes

Making changes to your daily habits may also help you reduce symptoms of panic disorder. These changes could include:

Taking steps to manage your daily stress levels may also help. Practicing mindfulness meditation, yoga, or another calming activity may help control your anxiety levels and reduce your symptoms.

Summary

There are treatment options available for panic disorder. These include:

  • Medication, like SSRIs or benzodiazepines
  • Therapy, like CBT or PFPP
  • A combination of medication and therapy

You can also implement lifestyle changes to better control your daily stress levels and further reduce your symptoms. Avoiding dietary triggers like caffeine may help, as can making sure you get enough sleep and exercise.

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11 Sources
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