Panic disorder is a serious condition characterized by a sudden onset of intense anxiety and terror and physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath. A person in the midst of a panic attack may feel as if he is having a heart attack and even fear for his sanity. People with panic disorders may develop phobias believing that avoidance of a particular object, or act, will prevent an attack. The patient's world gets increasingly smaller in an effort to control the disorder. There are healthy ways of coping with and even overcoming panic disorder.
According to the American Psychological Association, a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy is the best treatment for panic disorder. In many patients, Fear of having a panic attack can actually trigger an attack. Psychological counseling helps the patient restructure and retrain his thoughts to find more constructive ways of dealing with panic situations.
Some patients may benefit from medication, in addition to therapy. A doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants and, in some cases, anticonvulsants. Medication can restore basic functioning by preventing or reducing the severity of the attacks. Some forms of therapy involve exposure to attack-triggering stimuli. Medication can help the patient maintain control while restructuring his cognitive process.
Picture yourself in a safe place. If you are not driving, put on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and listen to relaxing music. People tend to stop breathing or hyperventilate when they panic, which can make panic attacks worse. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs to capacity, then exhale slowly.focusing on your breath, or finding something nonthreatening to occupy your attention calms the mind to help you flow through the panic attack.
Find a support group of people who suffer from panic disorder. Often, people with this disorder may feel isolated and alone. They are often surrounded by people who don't understand their condition or realize exactly how terrifying an attack can be. For some, just knowing that there are others going through the same thing, can make is easier to cope. Support groups should not be used in place of professional therapy, but they can help speed the treatment process.
Medline Plus: Panic Disorder Resource Page
American Psychological Association
National Institutes of Mental Health: Panic Disorder