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Top Tips on How to Deal with Anxiety and Panic Attacks

written by: BettyHolt • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/3/2011

Anxiety and panic attacks can range from mildly upsetting to severely debilitating. Panic is treatable, and the sooner you seek treatment, the better off you will be. Some of the top tips on how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks are covered in this article

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    Panic Attacks

    It may feel like you are going crazy when you are in the middle of a panic attack. Your heart pounds, you can't breathe, and you feel overcome with fear and anxiety. You may feel dizzy or nauseated and wonder if you are having a heart attack. A panic attack often seems to come out of the blue, with no warning, and it's difficult to figure out what has caused it. Often these attacks happen when you are away from home, but they can happen anywhere and anytime. In addition to the symptoms listed above, you may also find yourself breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling detached from your feelings, and feeling afraid that you might be dying or losing control of your life.

    If there's any good news, it is that panic attacks are short-lived and usually reach their peak in about 10 minutes. Most end in 30 minutes and they rarely last longer than an hour. A panic attack can be a one-time occurrence, but most people experience repeated episodes. If a situation caused a panic attack in the past, being in that situation again may trigger another attack. For instance, if you had an attack crossing a long bridge over water, just remembering that and how you felt can bring on another attack. Usually the situation is one in which you feel trapped and unable to escape. Repeated panic attacks can turn into panic disorder.

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    Dealing with Anxiety and Panic Attack Tips

    1. Learn about panic attacks. By reading up on anxiety and panic you can learn that the feelings you experience during an episode are normal. You can also see that panic attacks and panic disorder are fairly common.

    2. Avoid smoking and caffeine. These stimulants can help bring on an attack in people who are sensitive to them. Even diet pills and non-drowsy cold medicines can have an effect.

    3. Learn deep breathing. By learning how to control your breathing, you can begin to calm yourself down when you feel an attack coming. Immediately start deep breathing at the first sign of anxiety.

    4. Practice relaxation techniques. Disciplines such as yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation cultivate the body's relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response which happens with anxiety and panic. Practice regularly.

    5. Emotional release work. Most people with anxiety and panic are already operating at a higher anxiety level to begin with. Sometimes anxiety is a cover for other feelings of sadness or anger. When these underlying feelings are released, anxiety decreases. Journaling and experiential psychotherapies help get to the feelings underneath the panic.

    6. Aerobic exercise. Exercise increases pleasurable endorphins and lowers stress. Aerobic exercise uses energy which may be pent-up in the body and moves it outward.

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    Behavioral Tips

    More than three million Americans experience panic disorder sometime during their lives. Panic attacks and panic disorder are treatable. A non-drug treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy is usually the accepted form of treatment. This type of therapy, administered by a trained counselor, looks at the thoughts and behaviors that are triggering and sustaining the attacks. By looking at some fears that could be considered to be irrational, you can view your fears in a more realistic light. For example, suppose you have a panic attack while driving. What is the worst thing that could happen? You may have to pull off the road until the attack subsides. It's not likely that a disaster will occur in the form of a heart attack or a wreck. Learning to confront your fears and examine them thoroughly is a result of this type of therapy.

    In exposure therapy you are exposed to the physical sensations of panic in a safe environment. You may be asked to replicate the sensations of panic by hyperventilating or holding your breath. By repeated exposure you become less afraid of these bodily sensations and gain a greater sense of control over your panic.

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    Drug Tips

    Further anxiety and panic attack tips include drug treatments for panic attacks approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration. These include SSRI's such as Zoloft and Paxil, and SSNRI's such as Cymbalta and Effexor, and Klonopin and Ativan from the benzodiazepine group. Medications from the beta-blocker family are sometimes used as well. Inderal, for example, is used to treat the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Before SSRI's and SSNRI's were available, tricyclic antidepressants were used. Although they are effective, SSRI's and SSNRI's are generally tolerated better.

    According to medicinenet.com, research shows that psychotherapy alone or in combination with medication is more effective than medication alone in treating panic attacks.

    In the herb family, Kava has sometimes been used to treat mild to moderate panic disorder.