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How to Help Panic Disorder without Medication

written by: suzysnowflake • edited by: jen2008 • updated: 8/23/2010

By learning strategies to cognitively cope with panic disorder, a person can control situations that would otherwise disrupt their life. Being able to approach their fears rationally and understand what causes them, a person suffering from panic disorder can significantly diminish these episodes.

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    Suffering from panic disorder can cause people to avoid activities or places that they associate with the feelings of panic. It can disrupt their lives and cause problems in their jobs and families. Medication can help some of these people, but others prefer a non-pharmaceutical approach to dealing with their problems. There are many ways to help panic disorder without medication.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    The therapy most widely used for panic disorder is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The cognitive part addresses the negative thought processes and how they are distorted in the patient’s mind. The behavior part of the therapy looks at how the person behaves and reacts in response to whatever triggers the panic.

    The basis of CBT overall is to evaluate how the persons thoughts make them feel in relation to the situation and to learn to replace them with positive thoughts. There are three steps involved in this process:

    1. Identify negative thoughts. When a panic attack occurs, the person feels the situation is worse than it really is. They need to focus on what is causing the panic and why. Often times it may seem irrational to others, but for the person experiencing it, it is very real.
    2. Challenge negative thoughts. Once the trigger for the panic is identified, it needs to be evaluated. Why is the person feeling this way and is the fear real? They need to rationally look at the situation and determine if whatever they are panicked about is reasonable.
    3. Replace negative thoughts with reality. The person learns how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. They may learn thoughts to repeat to themselves when they are confronted with a situation that causes them to panic. This will help calm them in the situation until they regain control.

    The benefit of cognitive behavior therapy is that the person learns to deal with their panic disorder and learn skills how to cope in life.

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    Exposure Therapy

    This therapy makes the patient face the situations that cause them to panic. The patient can either face the situation directly, or the therapist working with them will ask them to imagine it. During the confrontation of the situations, they are taught how to gain control over it. As the person learns they can control the situation, the panic diminishes.

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    Relaxation and Coping Strategies

    Learning to relax and how to cope with panic disorder helps the person respond better to a trigger situation. Some of these methods include:

    • Deep Breathing- Inhale slowly through the nose to expand the abdomen. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then slowly let it out. Count to four while inhaling and exhaling to keep the breathing slow. Doing this for at least five minutes helps the body to relax.
    • Progressive Muscle Relaxation- This technique is to tense and then relax each muscle group in the body, by progressing one group at a time. There are CDs and tapes that can be used to learn this technique or it can by taught by a therapist. People sometimes find it helpful to listen to music while doing this.
    • Regular Exercise- Exercising regularly has been proven to help relieve panic episodes.
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    Each of these methods provide a way how to help panic disorder without medication. These methods can be used in conjunction with medication, or by themselves. The advantage to all of these is they provide a person suffering from panic to be able to deal with a panic attack in a rational and cognitive manner. The person can then take control of the situation, rather than being controlled by the situation.