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Panic disorder - Things you can do to help yourself

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are several self-help techniques you can use to help treat the symptoms of panic disorder yourself.

Some of these techniques are listed below.

Stay where you are

If possible, you should stay where you are during a panic attack. The panic attack could last up to an hour, so you may need to pull over and park where it is safe to do so if you are driving. Do not rush to a place of safety.

Focus

During a panic attack, remind yourself that the frightening thoughts and sensations are a sign of panic and will eventually pass. During a panic attack it is important for you to focus on something that is non-threatening and visible, such as the time passing on your watch, or items in a supermarket.

Slow deep breathing

While you are having a panic attack, try to focus on your breathing. Your feelings of panic and anxiety can get worse if you breathe too quickly. Try to focus on slow deep breathing while counting slowly to three on each breath in and out.

Challenge your fear

During a panic attack, try to notice what it is you fear and challenge it. You can achieve this by constantly reminding yourself that what you fear is not real and that it will pass in a few minutes. 

Creative visualisation

During a panic attack, lots of things can go through your mind. Some people think about disaster, or even death. Instead of letting your imagination focus on these negative thoughts, try to concentrate on positive images.

Think of a place or a situation that makes you feel peaceful, relaxed or at ease. Once you know have this image in your mind, try to focus your attention on it. It should help to distract you from the situation, and it may also help ease your symptoms.

Thinking positively can be challenging, particularly if you have got used to thinking negatively over a long period of time. Creative visualisation is a technique that will need practice, but you may gradually notice positive changes in the way that you think about yourself and others.

Try this five-minute audio guide to replacing negative thoughts with more positive thinking.

Do not fight an attack

Fighting a panic attack can often make the experience worse. Trying to resist the attack and finding that you are unable to can increase your sense of anxiety and panic.

Instead, during a panic attack, reassure yourself by accepting that although it may seem embarrassing, and your symptoms may be difficult to deal with, your attack is not life-threatening. Focus on the fact that your attack will have an end and try your best to let it pass.

Relaxation

If you have panic disorder, you may feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be. Learning to relax can help to relieve some of this stress and tension, and may also help you to deal more effectively with your panic attacks when they occur.

Some people find that complementary therapies, such as massage and aromatherapy, help them to relax. Others find activities such as yoga, or pilates, helpful. You can also practise breathing and relaxation techniques, which you can use during a panic attack to help ease your symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, will help you to combat stress and release tension. It can also encourage your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can help to improve your mood.

You should be aiming to do a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, at least five days a week. Vigorous exercise should make you feel out of breath and tired, although not to the point where it is unbearable. Going for a brisk walk, or walking up hill, are both examples of vigorous exercise.

However, if you have not exercised before, or for a long time, you should visit your GP for a fitness assessment before starting a new exercise programme.

See the Live Well section about Fitness for more information and advice about the benefits of regular exercise and how it can improve your health.

Diet

Unstable levels of blood sugar can contribute to the symptoms of a panic attack. Therefore, you should maintain a healthy, balanced diet, eat regularly and avoid eating sugary food and drinks. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking because they can contribute to panic attacks.

See the Health A-Z topic about Diet for more information regarding food groups and advice about how to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

Medical Review: April 20, 2012
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