Occasionally feeling worried, stressed, or anxious is a normal part of being human. Before taking a test, facing a problem at work, or making a choice that seems to have serious consequences, it can be natural to feel a sense of worry or fear. Serious anxiety and panic disorders are much more severe, longer-lasting, and hard to control. People with panic disorders may feel “attacked” by a profound sense of dread or worry that may seem to come out of nowhere or be brought on by a seemingly insignificant trigger.
The sense of panic doesn’t seem to go away and may worsen over time, to the point that it interferes with your ability to go about your day. Panic attacks often have intense physical sensations as well, which may include a pounding heart, sweating, trembling, and short breaths. It brings on a sense of being out of control, and can itself be a very stressful and scary experience. Some sufferers may become obsessed or consumed with worry about when the next panic attack will come.
Facing something so destabilizing and unpleasant, it is reasonable for someone with a panic disorder to look for help wherever he or she can find it. Self-medicating is looking to drugs or alcohol as a way to dull the feelings of panic and anxiety, not so much to create an enjoyable “high” but simply to feel “normal” and capable of handling life. However, these substances are not guaranteed to work. The exact effect certain substances may have can be unpredictable, and dependent on the person and contexts of use.
A substance that may seem to “help” for one person or one day may just as easily end up making things worse. Furthermore, using a chemical to bury your feelings does nothing to actually solve the deeper root cause of your anxiety. Here are some other steps you can take to treat your panic attacks and anxiety, getting the help you really need.
Stop and Breathe:
Ultimately, a panic disorder is rooted in an incorrect way of perceiving both your inner and outer surroundings. That is, you feel like everything is falling apart, or that you are helpless. Often the truth is, you are fine. Nothing bad is going on around you in the present moment, and you are strong enough and capable enough to handle whatever challenges come ahead. Mindfulness meditation can be an important way to stop and pause, and be gentle with yourself.
You can start by paying careful attention to your breath, bringing all your focus to what’s going on in your body. Simply pay attention to what your breath is like, and then slowly think about trying to slow it down, in a way that can often be instantly relaxing. Then, try to practice slowly observing your emotions and thoughts, simply letting them pass by without judgment and without being caught up in any of them.
Working with a trained therapist can help you learn practical coping mechanisms for making it through your day-to-day life. A program of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be especially useful in slowly diving into the source of your anxieties, and learning productive ways to handle and deal with the stress, as well as speak back to the falsehoods playing in your mind that bring on a sense of panic.
In addition to meeting one-on-one with a trained therapist, you can also get guidance and support from 12-step groups, and other peer support groups can connect you with other people who can help you manage your stress in healthy ways, and speak encouraging truths and be in the present moment.
Prescription medications can be useful, especially if combined with therapy. In particular, antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can often help “tone down” the severity of your panic responses and help you lead a satisfying life as you work on your healing.
Panic attacks can be very hard to deal with, but there are solutions and ways to truly care for yourself. Turning to addictions to shield you from the pain is a quick fix that will not truly meet your needs. The more careful work of your healing may seem like a longer, harder process, but it is the only way to truly experience freedom from anxiety. You are strong enough to cope, and there are many resources in the world around you to help you make it.