Panic Disorder

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Panic disorder treatment

The treatment22 of panic disorder is aimed at managing short- and long-term symptoms, reducing the frequency of your panic attacks, and improving your overall daily life.

The two main options for treating panic attacks and panic disorder are psychotherapy and medications. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine whether one or both of these treatments will work best for you.

Psychotherapy for panic disorder

Psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy or just therapy, is widely accepted as an effective first line of treatment for panic disorder.

One form of psychotherapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy23 (CBT), involves working with a mental health counselor to help you become aware of and respond differently to inaccurate or negative thoughts.

CBT involves slowly and repeatedly recreating the symptoms of your panic attacks in a safe environment. This is done with the goal of overcoming the fear and threatening feelings associated with panic attacks.

By helping you discover your symptoms are not dangerous and that you will make it through them, CBT allows you to more effectively deal with and respond to your panic attacks.

Psychotherapy is an ongoing process and often requires a good deal of practice and commitment before you begin to see tangible results. The benefits of treatments like CBT, however, can be monumental.

Medications for panic disorder

Some medications that have been shown to be effective in managing the signs and symptoms of panic attacks include24:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a form of antidepressant. Because they are widely accepted as safe and carry a low risk of serious side effects, SSRIs are generally considered to be a good first choice in using medication to treat panic attacks and panic disorder.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): This is another form of antidepressant. One SNRI, venlafaxine (generic Effexor XR), is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of panic attacks/panic disorder.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are sedatives that work by depressing the central nervous system. They are effective at quickly relieving symptoms and are often used to treat panic attacks while they are happening. Both alprazolam (generic Xanax) and clonazepam (generic Klonopin) are approved by the FDA to treat panic disorder and panic attacks.

Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming. Because of this, these medications are generally only prescribed on a short-term basis and are not recommended for individuals who have struggled with substance use issues.

Panic disorder medication

Sometimes, medication is prescribed alongside psychotherapy. You may be prescribed medication for quick short-term relief of your symptoms during a panic attack in addition to more long-term medication for everyday anxiety.

May be prescribed

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Prevent panic attacks

Preparing for a panic attack by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing coping techniques is the best way to prevent them from happening in the first place. While there’s no guaranteed method of preventing panic attacks, you may benefit from these tips25:

  • Practice stress management techniques: Deep breathing exercises, controlled muscle relaxation, and meditation can all help keep you focused on your physical body—rather than anxiety—and can be useful when dealing with a panic attack in the moment.
  • Seek professional treatment as soon as possible to help manage your signs and symptoms and prevent your panic attacks from worsening.
  • Get regular physical activity: Exercise can help manage anxiety and calm frayed nerves.

It may also be a good idea to let others know that you have panic attacks if you feel comfortable doing so. Let people you trust know the best ways of helping or supporting you during an attack before one occurs.

How to stop a panic attack

Once the symptoms of a panic attack begin, it is possible to minimize them and prevent a full-blown panic attack from occurring.

First, remind yourself that the catastrophizing thoughts you experience during a panic attack are just those—thoughts.

That doesn’t mean you should try to minimize what you’re experiencing and tell yourself, “it’s all in my head.” The physical feelings that accompany a panic attack are very real.

However, keep in mind that it will pass and that there is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. This might help to de-escalate the attack.

Here are some other tips for dealing with a panic attack26 while it is happening:

  • Use a deep breathing technique. You may alternate breathing between your nostrils or breathe in, hold the breath, and exhale for five counts each. You may also focus on slowly breathing into your belly rather than taking shallow breaths into your chest.
  • Look around you27. Name (out loud or to yourself) five items you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can hear, and one you can taste. This helps ground you in your external environment and take you out of your panicky thoughts.
  • Picture yourself in a safe, calming scenario. If your external environment may have triggered your panic attack, try closing your eyes.
  • Relax your muscles, starting with your fingers, then moving to your hands, your wrists, your arms, and through the rest of the body.
  • Distract yourself by counting down from 100, counting the spare change in your pocket, or saying the alphabet backward. The idea is to do something involved enough that it will engage your focus, but not so difficult that it will cause you further panic.
  • Take your prescribed medication. If you have been prescribed a benzodiazepine, take the recommended dose to relieve your physical symptoms. This will allow your physical symptoms to subside enough for you to calm yourself using management techniques.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.