Those who suffer panic attacks are all too familiar with symptoms such as a pounding heart, dizziness, shortness of breath, and stomach related maladies. For the vast majority of the public who do not suffer panic attacks, they do not realize that they are a very private matter. Sufferers typically worry about irrational fears and may recognize them as such, but are unable to do anything about it. Shame over their loss of control over their lives is a common result. This may cause them to not seek help. For those who do seek help, several options are available.

Many specialists in the field agree that cognitive and behavioral therapies used together is the best therapy available for panic attacks. Understanding what panic attacks are is the first step to get the help they need. This cognitive awareness can alter how a person thinks, thereby making them believe they are not crazy or having a heart attack or that they are going to die. Cognitive therapy helps individuals replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Panic Attack Help

Behavioral therapy, on the other hand, focuses on changing or eliminating the actual behavior. It does not consider the underlying thought processes involved which lead to that behavior. It is basically saying the symptoms of a panic attack are behaviors learned through being repeatedly subjected to stimulus. An example of this type of therapy may be subjecting a patient to controlled exposure to a stimulus, such as flying for example. They may start out by merely driving to an airport, then move on to entering the terminal, then waiting at the gate, then maybe stepping on and off the plane, until finally they are able to actually fly.

The most effective therapy combines these two types into what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This utilizes methodology from both methods, and is currently the most recommended therapy for the control of panic attacks. Depending on the source of the panic attack, CBT may borrow more from one method. Specific phobias, such as our flying example, are often treated with more of a behavioral approach, whereas more generalized or unknown sources of panic attacks borrow more from the cognitive approach. Each case is as different as the individual exhibiting the symptoms, and must be treated as such.

In the cognitive portion of treatment, the thinking errors or thinking distortions create a cycle of fear. The initial symptom of say, an increased heart rate, will generate an anxiety. That anxiety will trigger other thoughts and images, eventually building up to what we call a panic attack. The behavioral portion focuses more on what to do when these symptoms are recognized and then change that behavior. Relaxation and breathing techniques are utilized. This portion of treatment also tends to focus on the “real life” or “in the moment situations”, as in our flying example.

Lastly, CBT may be used in conjunction with drug therapy. Many medications exist that can lessen the severity or reduce the number of panic attacks. They do so by lessening the anxiety associated with any given situation. No single form of therapy works in all cases. Your qualified medical provider must evaluate you and prescribe a course of action suited for your individual situation.

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