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Dr. Patrick McGrath’s Blog

The Key to Unlocking Panic Disorders

Panic attacks can be amazingly frightening to people – especially since many of the symptoms seem to mimic a heart attack and many people having a panic attack will rush to an emergency room since they think that they may be dying. However, no one, as far as we know, has ever died of a panic attack.

So, what is the best thing to do for panic? Many practitioners insist that you just need to do deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation – the idea being is you just get yourself to be relaxed, then you will not panic. The problem with this though is if you have panic disorder, panic attacks just happen out of the blue. Therefore, if you rely on relaxation and breathing, you have to be doing these things all of the time in order to be able to catch a panic attack, and that simply will not work.

The best way to actually help someone who has panic attacks is to teach them that they need not fear any of the symptoms of panic at all – there is no danger in panic attacks. The way that we do this is through interoceptive exposure – we actually have patients experience the symptoms of panic, one at a time, in order to teach them that there is nothing dangerous about a panic attack.

If you come to ACI for treatment, we will have you do a series of exercises that will mimic your panic – you will run in place, hyperventilate, spin in a chair, and even breathe through straws. The goal will be to show you that you can have all of the symptoms of pani without actually having a panic attack. Once you realize that they symptoms will not hurt you, your fear of panic attacks ought to decrease significantly. Then by not fearing them and constantly being on the look-out for them (we call this hypervigilance) you will likely see the number of panic attacks you have decrease.

You may be thinking, “There is no way that will work.” But, if you want to read up about this treatment, get a copy of the book “An End to Panic” and read through it to see what we are talking about here.

At ACI, we can help you though all of the steps in that book and get you to a, hopefully, panic free life.