First, let me tell you a bit about my credentials. In other words, what makes me qualified to speak about panic attacks, panic disorder, and effective treatment? I am a licensed clinical therapist. Also, I am completing my dissertation for my PhD in clinical psychology after working for a while as a therapist. I have done extensive research for my dissertation on panic attacks. But, most importantly, I am someone who has personally dealt with panic disorder for most of my adult life. Starting at age 19, while attending college; I experienced my first panic attack. It was something so horrible and so debilitating that I was reduced to a shell of my former self. Like anyone who has experienced the sudden feeling of horror, feeling that you are going to die, racing heart beat, sweating, and sheer panic associated with panic disorder, this is perhaps the worst experience one can have! For me, this experience came a few weeks after recovering "physically" from a major car accident where I was hit by a drunk driver. I was thrown from my vehicle, but somehow, survived the accident. Another individual was not so lucky.
So, I later came to learn that I probably had a "predisposition" for panic disorder, yet there was nothing in my previous experience that served to trigger a panic attack. Now, my life changed forever. For anyone who has experienced a panic attack for the first time, you think that you are going crazy. You know in your mind that this is an abnormal experience. For many people who are prone to panic attacks, you have always had complete control over your life. In fact, it is quite common for people who have panic disorder to be "control freaks."
In other words, we are often the type of people that will try to control our external and internal environment. So, all of a sudden, we get whacked across the head with this sudden, out-of-control feeling of dread and fear that sort of knocks us off our "control perch!" From there, we begin to try and reclaim the sense of control in our lives. We will do ANYTHING not to have another panic attack. This is how agoraphobia sets in. For those of you who do not know what agoraphobia is, it is characterized as a fear of public spaces. It is not necessarily a fear of open spaces, but a fear of public spaces.
The person with panic disorder quickly comes to the realization that he/she does not want to risk the embarrassment of having another panic attack in front of others....again a form of control. So, the person decides to only stay in places that are exceedingly comfortable for them, such as one's home. Slowly, they develop a desire to stay at home, never venturing far from what is comfortable for them. Thus, the idea of going to a crowded shopping mall would be out of the question. The person with panic disorder begins to plan their life around a theme of avoidance.
One of the keys to overcoming panic disorder is to understand its origin. It's also important to actually understand what is happening to you during a panic attack so you can become proactive in getting a handle on how to minimize its effects on you. First, you must recognize that while you experience a panic attack on an emotional level, it is largely a chemical process that you are experiencing.
Have you ever felt an adrenalin rush where your heart races or you begin to sweat? When you exercise this is basically what occurs. Even without a predisposition to panic disorder, you could produce the physical feeling associated with a panic attack...simply drink 15-20 cups of coffee and stand back! When you have a panic attack, your body is being flooded with adrenalin. The difference is; you are not actively doing anything, such as exercise, to promote this adrenalin rush. Thus, the feelings immediately seem strange, which serves to produce more adrenalin in your body.
In other words, on an emotional level, you begin to feel fearful. The next thing you know, you are hyperventilating and feeling out of control. Yet, have you noticed that eventually these feelings subside? The sense of dread, the hyperventilating, and the racing heartbeat all normalize eventually. Why is that? Have you thought about it? Well, it's because the body has a natural mechanism for eliminating all that adrenalin that has flooded your system. If you breathe into a paper bag, the oxygen will help to speed up that process. So, one of the first things you should do once you experience the beginnings of a panic attack and that fear is to gently tell yourself that you're going to be okay! You're not dying, nor will this last forever. Generally, the attack lasts for less than a couple of minutes. Tell yourself that your body is already dealing with the excess adrenalin....and the body's natural defense mechanisms always win!
However, many people manage panic attacks quite well with a prescribed anti-anxiety drug such as Clonopin. Also, research suggests that the best results tend to be achieved with a combination of talking therapy and medication. For those who are opposed to taking prescription meds, perhaps it would be useful to investigate the benefits achieved through various homeopathic remedies. There are numerous herbal remedies that have been known to be effective. The important thing is to do your research and speak to doctor who specializes in these herbal options.
You might be suprised to know just how many people suffer from panic disorder. Again, you are not alone by any means. There are groups that serve this population. If you do a simple Google search, you're likely to find one that meets your needs.
Best of luck!