Panic Disorder: Tips on Dealing Day-to-Day

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that involves repeated panic attacks over a short period of time (e.g., four or more panic attacks in a month). Each year, about 2.4 million Americans experience panic disorder, according to the National Mental Health Association. It’s among the most common anxiety disorders.

Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with panic disorder. This condition can be very frightening and cause a great deal of anxiety. However, it can often be treated effectively. The right treatment regimen can help reduce or prevent panic attacks in 70 to 90 percent of patients, according to the National Mental Health Association.

If you’re taking medications for panic disorder, it’s very important that you follow your doctor’s orders closely. The use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications should be closely monitored. They may take time to become effective and the effectiveness varies between individuals. Your doctor may need to adjust the dosage or completely change medications to find one that provides the optimal results for you with minimal side effects.

You should not stop using antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications unless under the close supervision of your doctor. Stopping these medications too quickly may cause withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, headache and dizziness and, in some cases, death.

In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has advised that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents and all people being treated with them should be monitored closely for unusual changes in behavior.

People who have too much stress in their lives may be at a higher risk for panic attacks. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and guided imagery may help to feel more relaxed. Other tips to help relieve stress, and possibly panic attacks, include:

  1. Eat a well-balanced and healthful diet. This can be accomplished by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reducing or avoiding excess fat, sodium and sugar in meals. A well-balanced diet promotes energy, alertness and helps keep weight under control – all of which can lead to good mental and physical well-being.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids. Adequate consumption of fluids, especially water, helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue and lack of energy. Most health experts recommend drinking a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce servings a day.
  3. Don’t let one panic attack worry you. Although they can be very frightening, panic attacks are often harmless. Just because you’ve had a panic attack does not mean that there is anything wrong with you, physically or mentally. Most people only experience one or two in their entire lifetime. If you’ve had one panic attack, there’s a good chance it will be the only one you’ll ever have.
  4. Avoid or reduce the use of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and other substances. These are unhealthy ways of coping with stress. Furthermore, these substances may directly induce symptoms of a panic attack. Many substances, particularly illegal drugs such as marijuana and amphetamines, can create numerous other health and emotional problems, as well.
  5. Exercise regularly, as recommended by a physician. Various research indicates that exercise helps boost production of chemicals in the brain that are responsible for positive moods (endorphins), thereby alleviating symptoms associated with stress such as increased anxiety, irritability, sadness, fatigue, and anger. Reducing these symptoms may help prevent a panic attack.
  6. Get adequate rest. Proper relaxation and sleep habits can go a long way toward promoting emotional and physical well-being. Sleep requirements differ among individuals. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but some only need four to five hours. Also, practicing relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, meditation or massage therapy can help reduce stress and alleviate anxiety, insomnia and depression.
  7. Participate in activities that boost self-esteem, such as learning a new skill or hobby or joining a local social group. Low self-esteem can be damaging because it can affect your body, mind and spirit. It has been associated with a wide array of problems including emotional disorders. For example, low self-esteem can make depression, which occurs frequently in people with panic disorder, even worse.
  8. Maintain a positive outlook. It should be noted that remaining optimistic in distressing or stressful situations, such as following a panic attack, does not mean that you’re in denial. Rather, it can give hope when it is much needed. It can also nurture self-confidence, which can empower you to deal with hardships. Other positive coping mechanisms include avoiding self-criticism, being proud of your accomplishments no matter how big or small and finding sources of humor. For example, books or movies can help get your mind off of a past attack.
  9. Establish a healthy social network. Building strong, positive relationships with family and friends is an important source of support. It can fulfill your need of belonging, which helps prevent loneliness, especially during hard times. In addition, family members and other loved ones can help ensure that you seek proper medical treatment, such as counseling, when necessary.
  10. Work to resolve conflicts with other people in a positive way, such as by talking in an objective, non-accusative manner. Conflicts with others can cause a great deal of stress that can lead to a panic attack. If an attack does occur, ongoing conflicts may reduce the number of caring friends whom you can talk to about the incident.
  11. Set realistic goals at home, school and/or work. It’s important to realize how little time there may be in the day to accomplish all necessary tasks. Whenever possible, delegate or schedule tasks in a manner that allows extra time for their completion. This can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed and can reduce your risk of having a panic attack.
  12. Prepare to the best of your ability for stressful events, such as job interviews. This can promote peace of mind and help you succeed in such situations. If you’re well prepared, you won’t feel as anxious. By relieving that anxiety, you’re reducing your risk of a panic attack.

To remember, panic disorder is difficult to control with medication alone. Behavioral therapy along with gradual exposure to stress helps an individual to handle a panic situation better.

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