In this guide, we will discuss “Panic attack treatment without medication”, some of the options available out there drug-free and free of charge (or low cost). Also, we will talk about what a panic attack is, symptoms, and things to consider if you are thinking about getting a prescription to treat panic attacks.
You might’ve heard of the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ Therefore, before you learn treatment plans, you should be aware of the methods to prevent panic attacks.
Panic attack treatment without medication
Panic attack treatment without having to be medicated consists of making a few simple changes in your lifestyle for instance:
- Talking about your anxiety with someone you trust is one way to cope with it.
- Deep breathing exercises.
- Exercising regularly.
- Avoiding the use of caffeine.
- Going to sleep at the same time and waking up around the same time.
- Feel OK saying no to friends and family.
- Don’t skip meals.
- Use mindful meditation.
- Use relaxation techniques.
In contrast, we share the common thought where if we have a headache we need to take medicine or we have the flu, we need medicine. What our society has introduced to us is the idea we need medication for everything. However, notice how every medication (even the OTCs) has possible side effects, and even though they will not affect everyone the same, we still need to be aware of them.
Subsequently, mental conditions are not different. If someone is depressed they get prescribed antidepressants and if someone has an anxiety disorder, they get prescribed anti-anxiety meds. The same principle applies but what if we could have a different approach (drug-free) where we give priority to other treatment options instead of going straight to medication?
Here we will discuss some of the options available to you, so feel free to try them and experiment. However, let’s take a look at what is a panic attack first.
Panic Attack: what is it?
As indicated by J. Scott Fraser, Ph.D., “panic attacks are almost always diagnosed with what is called related agoraphobia. The term “agoraphobia” refers to the tendency to avoid or endure with dread those situations where escape might be difficult if panic might set in. This includes great concern over the potential embarrassment of losing control and fainting, vomiting, or losing bowel control for example.”
Panic attacks come suddenly and unexpectedly, and they are mostly uncued, meaning there is no evident or obvious stimulus associated with triggering the attack but there is a possibility of also having cued panic attacks, less frequent though. This is why, on many occasions, the treatment becomes quite challenging. However, let’s consider how having a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean you have a panic disorder as many people believe.
Moreover, we know panic attacks can be experienced with a lot of discomfort and distress due to physical and cognitive symptoms. Some of them include:
- Chest pain.
- Heart palpitations.
- Increased breathing rate.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Shortness of breath.
- Fear of dying, going crazy, or losing control.
Criteria for diagnosing panic disorder
As we have discussed, not everyone who suffers a panic attack automatically has a panic disorder. There is a diagnostic criterion from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5 (in its latest version). Here are the main criteria according to the Mayo Clinic:
- You have frequent, unexpected panic attacks.
- At least one of your attacks has been followed by one month or more of ongoing worry about having another attack; continued fear of the consequences of an attack, such as losing control, having a heart attack or “going crazy”; or significant changes in your behavior, such as avoiding situations that you think may trigger a panic attack.
- Your panic attacks aren’t caused by drugs or other substance use, a medical condition, or another mental health condition, such as social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How can I treat panic attacks without medication?
There are a few options available to lessen anxiety and they are drug-free. For instance, Anti-anxiety medication has been associated with several unwanted and uncomfortable side effects such as nausea, insomnia, nervousness, blunted emotions, reduced libido, among others.
Even though not everyone will get the side effects, it is important to be aware of them.
Instead, one of the options available to treat panic attacks without medication are learning-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. These types of treatments can have long-term results by teaching the individual how to find the cause of their anxiety instead of just treating the symptoms.
Moreover, just as indicated in pzizz.com, “Even if you do not have an anxiety disorder, training yourself to conquer negative, worrying thoughts will help ensure peace of mind and restful sleep for a lifetime.”
Another natural option available to treat anxiety is through deep breathing techniques. When we feel anxious or when we have a panic attack, we notice how our breathing pattern shifts and becomes superficial. By engaging deep breathing exercises during a panic attack we are telling our body there is no real danger so we can calm down and relax. The key is to take deep, slow belly breaths using our diaphragm to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
One popular breathing technique consists of inhaling 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Remember to do this by putting one hand on top of your chest and the other on top of your belly so you can notice how when you exhale the hand that moves is the one on your belly instead of the chest.
You may have heard already about the benefits of exercise in terms of helping reduce anxiety. Moreover, exercising releases stress, decreases tension, improves sleep, stabilizes our mood, among other known benefits.
When our flight or fight response gets activated, there is a release of the stress hormone which is reduced through exercise. In addition, our brain releases neurotransmitters called endorphins which makes us feel happier and less anxious.
Subsequently, it is not necessary for you to run a marathon or go to the gym for several hours at a time. Find simple and fun exercises, such as hiking, yoga, walking, jogging, playing a sport, etc. Just make sure to find the one that suits you best.
Meditation has become very popular when talking about ways to reduce anxiety or manage stress and there is increasing scientific evidence about its effectiveness. Through modern imaging techniques, scientists have been able to see how meditation creates new neural pathways and changes brain chemistry.
According to pzizz.com, “Buddhist monks have actually been training their brains in this way for centuries. At the recommendation of the Dalai Lama, neuroscientist Richard Davidson from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin, Madison studied the brains of eight practitioners who had spent over 34,000 hours meditating. What they found was that meditation had allowed the monks brains to become more plastic, more adaptable, and accepting of change and stressors.”
Should I consider a medical approach?
We live in a society and culture where medicine seems to solve all our physical problems so why not our mental as well. It seems to be easier than going to therapy, but what many people don’t actually consider are the many unwanted side effects. However, medication can help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms associated with panic attacks. Some of the most prescribed medications include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They are regarded as generally safe with lower risks of side effects, typically being the first choice when treating panic attacks. Some of them include fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline.
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are another class of antidepressants effective in treating not only depression but also anxiety disorders and long-term chronic pain, and some of them include venlafaxine or Effexor XR, duloxetine (Cymbalta) or levomilnacipran (Fetzima). Side effects are said to be usually mild and may go away after the first few weeks of treatment.
- Benzodiazepines. This type of medication is considered a central nervous system depressant with a sedative effect. Some of the most known medications used to treat panic disorder are alprazolam or Xanax and clonazepam or Klonopin. These are generally prescribed short-term since they can create mental or physical dependence.
Why is this blog about Panic attack treatment without medication important?
As we have discussed there are some options available out there to treat panic attacks and anxiety without having to take medication. Some of the options include exercising regularly or practicing some sport, mindful meditation, or going to psychotherapy (i.e. CBT).
Moreover, we also discussed how medication only seems to bring temporary relief to symptoms but without actually addressing the root cause in order to produce long-term effects. Also, medications have several unwanted side effects that not everyone gets to experience but we need to be aware of them. Subsequently, if you would like long-term effects and benefits, consider incorporating some of the options we have mentioned on a daily basis or a few days a week so you can start having a better quality of life.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Panic attack treatment without medication
How do you treat panic attacks naturally?
You can treat panic attacks naturally through exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, keeping a journal, managing time more effectively, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, cannabis oil, having a healthy diet, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, as well as the use of recreational drugs.
What helps panic attacks fast?
Here are a few tips and strategies you can implement that help to stop a panic attack faster:
- Deep breathing techniques.
- Recognize you are having a panic attack instead of fighting it.
- Closing your eyes and imagining you are in your happy place.
- Practicing mindful meditation.
- Reciting a mantra.
- Find an object in the room and focus on it.
- Using muscle relaxation techniques.
What is the best medicine for panic attacks?
Always consult with your physician about the best medicine for panic attacks. Usually, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor will be prescribed and they are said to be safe with low risks for serious side effects but everyone reacts differently to medication. This type of medication is known as antidepressants, which are the first choice to treat panic attacks.
What vitamins are good for anxiety and panic attacks?
It is believed that vitamin B5 supports adrenal glands, which helps reduce stress and anxiety levels. Also, vitamin B9 and vitamin B12 are important in balancing depressive moods. Moreover, vitamin B6 with magnesium seems to balance anxiety that happens in conjunction with PMS.
What triggers a panic attack?
Panic attacks can be triggered for many reasons but sometimes we don’t specifically know the exact reason. However, severe stress such as going through the loss of a loved one, getting divorced, losing your job, having a child, etc., can be responsible for panic attacks. Moreover, there could be medical conditions and other physical causes that can be associated with panic attacks.
Mayoclinic.org: “Panic attacks and panic disorder”
Pzizz.com: “How to Fight Anxiety Without Medication”
Fraser, J.S. (2020, Feb.) Mastering Panic Without Medication. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com.