Photo: Getty Images
By: Douglas Kong
You wake up one morning, happy that your life is finally on track. After enduring one painful break up after another, you’re finally free of deadbeat guys and loser relationships.
Months of fighting and bickering are finally over, and for the first time in a long time, you’re elated — comfortable in your own surroundings and not carrying the dead weight of a man who could never be your one and only.
But even under the veil of turning lemons into lemonade, something isn’t right.
You don’t feel completely in control and at times you even feel breathless, like your heart is racing like a steam engine; a feeling of dread and panic sweep all over you. Before you know it, you’re gasping for breath, while your heart is pounding away.
It’s a tailspin of emotions: Are you going to die? Collapse? Go mad?
Your heart feels like it’s about to burst. You’re immobilized and stuck in place, incapable of doing anything. All alone, all you can think to do is bend down and pray it will go away and that the nightmare will end.
Then, just as suddenly as it came on, your heart slows down; your breathing gets easier and those dreadful, horrendous thoughts about dying ebb away. It’s a relief, you’re going to make it. You are normal once more.
What’s going on in these cases is not a heart attack, but rather something equally as challenging to your way of life, it’s called panic disorder. For many, looking for a solution first involves a trip to the ER. But after countless visits to the doctor and prescriptions that make you feel like a zombie, you know two things: You suffer from panic attacks and the primary panic disorder treatment is medication.
Problem is, the meds make you feel listless and devoid of your personality. You’re not quite the “Walking Dead,” but at times it feels like it. So you decide to see if you can endure it on your own. But these panic feelings always return. Sometimes worse, sometimes a mere fraction of what’s possible in the worst of times.
One thing is for sure, when it comes to suffering from panic attacks, you’re not alone. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, some 5 percent of women and 2 percent of men have had panics at one time or another within a lifetime. Some conditions persist for years. Others come and go based on stress or other underlying challenges.
So if medication isn’t working for you, what else you can you do?
The short answer is that medication as a panic disorder treatment does relieve suffering and pain in the short term. But it is not the long-term solution for everyone. Most therapists agree that the combination of medication and behavioral/perceptual change that make the difference.
If you’re looking for alternative panic disorder treatments, here are some strategies :
1. Recognize that your panic attack is the stress response.
In fact, your panic attack is identical in every aspect of what happens when we feel under attack.
Think about it, the human response to a threat or imminent danger (imagine real danger — you’re being chased by a bear or attacked by bees), in those moments, our immediate and instinctive reaction is to panic.
The reaction in your brain is one in the same, when you have a panic attack: The amygdala is activated causing a variety of symptoms that we associate with being in severe danger. When you experienced a panic attack you experience this same response, as if it were real and you had to immediately get out of harm’s way.
Once you understand this, you will know how to reverse a panic attack.
2. Use relaxation techniques.
To extinguish a panic attack, you need to activate a relaxation response. That’s why breathing exercises are effective.
But there are a lot of other techniques that can induce the relaxation response, including: relaxing your muscles, calming your thought processes, resting and in some cases, exercise can harnesses the energy of the panic and eventually deliver a relaxing response.
In an ideal setting, it’s best to learn many different ways to calm your mind/body. It’s rarely a one size-fit’s all approach. Try many things to see what works best for you.
3. Work on your negative thoughts.
When you have panic attacks, they fuel your negative thoughts, which in turn aggravate your panic attacks. So, if you have negative thoughts, your panic attacks will get worse, rather than get better.
Reducing and eliminating toxic thinking is an effective way to stop panic attacks in your life. There are a lot of techniques that allow you to do that including challenging negative thoughts, installing positive thoughts and rehearsing positive thoughts and conditioning yourself to be positive among others. For extra help on this, see the end for how to connect with me for some ideas.
4. Deal with the panic triggers.
Some people know exactly what can trigger their panic attacks. They can even remember the original incident or what event caused the first panic attack to occur.
To heal the past from causing deeper panic to set in, you need to detoxify your memory of your triggers, especially if a trigger truly isn’t life threatening at all. Reach out of you need help.
5. Pace your life.
Living a life full of anxiety and stress makes you prone to panic attack. If your environment is super stressful, consider how you can change your life so it’s more calm and productive.
By living a life of stress and anxiety, you are truly short-changing yourself. Isn’t it time to stop doing this, and learn to be effective in whatever you are doing? It’s also the path to conquer your panic attacks.
To me, although panic disorder is a definitive diagnosis, having panic attacks is not just a problem you have to deal with forever.
Panic attacks and panic disorder are indicators that something is not-quite right in your life.
It could be a past psychological trauma that still needs to be healed. That’s why for some people panic attacks are a lifelong affliction, because they avoid dealing with the pain and finding a way to truly move past it.
The big question you need to ask yourself is this: Are the panic attacks you are experiencing an indication of ongoing continuing stressors in your life, or just some past post traumatic stress? Depending on your answer, you have to do some work to do in order to lead the life you most want to love.
Just know this, you’re not alone and help can be found by advocating for yourself. If I can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Dr. Douglas Kong is a retired psychiatrist who specialized in stress management, psychological treatment and self-help. Download his latest Ebook on Conquering Panic Attacks, along with his free video course, here.
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