Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Panic disorder can bring an array of distressing symptoms. People with this disorder have panic attacks that cause both physical symptoms and extreme fear and anxiety. If you have panic disorder, you don’t have to continue suffering alone. Fortunately, help is available in the form of several different types of treatment for anxiety disorders.
Panic Disorder Medication and Treatment
The two main types of treatment for panic disorder are medications and psychotherapy. The medications can help ease the symptoms of panic attacks. Psychotherapy can help you manage your fears to respond differently in situations that frighten you.
Panic Disorder Medication
Medications can help with panic disorder in several ways. They can diminish the symptoms of a panic attack or perhaps even stop one before it gets worse. They can also provide a longer-term solution by decreasing your susceptibility to panic attacks. If you have depression and panic disorder symptoms, treating that condition may also help reduce your vulnerability to panic attacks.
Goals For Panic Disorder Medication Treatment
The psychiatrist who prescribes your medications will have specific goals of treatment in mind. Before prescribing any medications, they’ll ask you about your symptoms, when they happen, and which ones are most troubling to you. Then, they will choose the drug that is most likely to help you. In some cases, they may adjust your dose or change your medication later on until they find the best combination for you. Goals for treatment with medication include:
- Reduce the severity of panic attack symptoms
- Help you have panic attacks less often
- Stop panic attacks before they get worse
- Decrease symptoms of depression related to panic disorder
In addition to those goals, medications can also be the first step in overcoming panic disorder. Sometimes, it’s used as a temporary treatment for anxiety symptoms until psychotherapy techniques have a chance to work.
Types Of Panic Disorder Medication
Usually, mental health professionals prescribe one of four different types of medication for anxiety and panic attacks. Two are antidepressants. One is a medication that is often used for blood pressure control. The fourth is a quick-acting medication that’s helpful during panic attacks.
Panic Disorder Medication: SSRI Antidepressants
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are primarily for treating depression. If you have depression because of or along with panic disorder, SSRIs are among the best antidepressants to use. In fact, many doctors prefer to start treatment for this disorder with these medications. They’re safe, effective, and have few side effects. Examples include:
Panic Disorder Medication : SNRI Antidepressants
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) offer another solution to depression and panic attacks. These medications are also safe and effective for depression, panic attacks, and many forms of anxiety. These medications are helpful because they affect two neurotransmitters, sometimes called nerve messengers, in your brain that are typically unbalanced when you have panic disorder. Norepinephrine, especially, makes sense for panic attacks since it affects the way you react to stress. Some of the most common SSRIs include:
- Effexor XR
If you have high blood pressure, your physician might prescribe beta-blockers. The reason is that they reduce the effects of stress by controlling your body’s fight or flight response. For the same reason, these drugs can be used as anxiety medication. They reduce your body’s reaction to the situations you fear most, including situations where you think you might have a panic attack. Some of the beta-blockers used for panic disorder include:
Once you’re taking them, your heart doesn’t beat as fast, your hands don’t shake as much, and other physical symptoms of panic attacks are milder, too. Beta-blockers do come with a few side effects. They may go away after you’ve been taking this medication for a few weeks. If not, your doctor may consider switching you to a different type of medication. Some of the side effects include:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Asthma attacks
- Low blood sugar
- Fluid retention and weight gain
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed medications for panic disorder. They’re fast-acting and potent medications. You can use them when you have a panic attack for immediate relief. Benzodiazepines can be habit forming. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse the prescriber will likely avoid these medications because they can be addictive. They’re an effective short-term solution that can get you by until other treatments begin to help. Some of the most common benzodiazepines used for panic disorder include:
Will Ativan stop a panic attack? Will other beta-blockers do the trick? Maybe so. If they do, they might also prevent you from having anxiety about future panic attacks. Perhaps that combination of immediate help and prevention is why these medications are so popular. It’s important to take medicines as directed by your provider.
What Is The Best Medicine For Anxiety And Panic Attacks?
Some anxiety medication can stop a panic attack. These medications provide a sense of comfort because you know you can get through a panic attack without going crazy or losing control. Other drugs work overtime to decrease your fear of panic attacks and reduce their symptoms or frequency.
But wouldn’t it be nice if you could deal with your panic disorder without medications? Even if you still needed drugs, you might find a longer-lasting treatment for panic attacks beneficial. A treatment that doesn’t have side effects or that needs to be refilled or require a prescription would be excellent. But is there such a treatment?
Some people talk about laughter, being the best medicine in life. In the same way, psychotherapy is one of the best medicines for mental illnesses like panic disorder. In therapy, you can change the way your mind works. You may even be able to change the way your body reacts to the situations you fear.
Psychotherapy Goals For Panic Disorder
Therapy starts with an initial assessment of your symptoms of panic disorder. After that, it will be time to establish some goals for treatment. For this, you can talk with your therapist about what you want to accomplish through therapy. They will likely give you some ideas about what you can hope to achieve.
Your goals may be different from other people’s plans. That’s okay. It’s best to focus on the most important goals and those that will give you the best overall results. Some common goals of therapy for panic disorder include:
- Reducing the frequency of panic attacks
- Decreasing the intensity of your symptoms
- Diminish the fear of having panic attacks
- Stop avoiding situations where you might panic.
- Learn to react differently to physical sensations of panic
Types Of Therapy
Two therapy types are often used to treat panic disorder: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
CBT For Panic Disorder
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a technique a therapist can use to teach you new ways of thinking and reacting. In panic disorder, treatment involves identifying thoughts that trigger your panic reactions. Then, you can decide whether those thoughts are accurate and helpful. If not, you can replace them with beliefs that are more beneficial to your mental wellbeing.
CBT can also address your responses to the physical feelings that come with panic attacks. As you describe your symptoms, you can examine them and learn to think differently and respond differently. Other types of CBT for panic disorder include learning relaxation and stress-management techniques. Your therapist might also teach you how to practice mindfulness in anxiety-prone situations.
Exposure Therapy For Panic Disorder
Exposure therapy is another type of cognitive therapy. In this treatment, you are systematically exposed to situations and places where you might experience panic attacks. At first, you might just look at pictures of those types of places. Later, you might imagine yourself going into such a situation. Finally, you actually do put yourself in place or position where you might have a panic attack.
Before you go into that situation, though, your therapist uses all those other CBT techniques to prepare you for your moment of panic. They’re with you along the way to guide you and remind you of what you’ve learned. Eventually, you may be able to reduce or even eliminate your panic attacks for the long term.
How To Get Started With Panic Disorder Treatment
If you’re concerned you might have panic disorder, it’s important to remember that help is available. Once you recognize you have a problem, you can speak with a mental health professional who knows how to treat panic attacks.
An easy way to check your symptoms' presence and significance are to take an online panic disorder screening test. The test gives questions, and you choose the answer that makes sense to you. Your answers should be based on your own emotional experience, thoughts, and behavioral reactions to the situations that cause you to panic.
You’ll get a quick visual display showing how your symptoms add up. A test report is then available to keep and show to the mental health provider that treats you.
Seeing A Mental Health Professional
With your screening results in hand, the next thing you can do for panic disorder is to talk to a mental health professional. If you choose to take medications, you’ll need to see someone who can prescribe them. For psychotherapy, you’ll need to talk with a psychologist or counselor – preferably one specializing in treating panic disorder.
Treatment is never an immediate thing. It’s a process that takes time and a certain level of commitment. If you want to get the best results from treatment, be sure to take any medications as directed. Keep going to see your doctor or therapist, and do any homework they suggest.
Panic disorder can be extremely distressing and frustrating. It can make you feel miserable and keep you from doing the things you need and want to do. But there are many effective treatments available to deal with panic attacks and panic disorder. With the right medications and therapy for you, you can get relief from your symptoms and begin to put panic behind you.