Treatment for Panic Attacks
The Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine provides treatment for reducing both the frequency and the intensity of panic attacks, and ultimately eliminating their occurrence in many individuals who are suffering from an Anxiety Disorder or Panic disorder. Our panic attack treatment programs are non-drug, non-invasive, and offer results that are sustainable over the long-term. In many cases, our treatment programs have proven so successful that many patients have managed to eliminate the occurrence of panic attacks altogether.
Since 1980, the Drake Institute has been using Biofeedback and Neurofeedback, to treat patients who are suffering from both Anxiety and Panic Disorders. Since 1992, we have been able to add qEEG brain mapping to further develop the most effective neurofeedback treatment protocols for Anxiety and Panic Disorders. Through our treatment programs, the patient can successfully strengthen healthy self-regulation of the patient’s mind/brain and body interaction, restoring a healthy homeostasis (physiologic balance) which reduces or resolves symptoms.
Utilizing the mind/brain- body connection is what provides our patients with sustainable results, as retraining the brain and learning psychophysiologic self-regulation is the most effective method for correcting the physical and emotional imbalances that may be present in our patients.
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden onset of acute psychophysiological symptoms that, in many cases, completely incapacitate the sufferer with an intense feeling of nervousness and fear. A panic attack, or panic disorder, may result from an anxiety disorder that has been left untreated or undiagnosed. It could also develop after going through several stressful or threatening experiences or abuses, and includes the following symptoms as designated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5):
Panic Attack Symptoms
- Shortness of Breath or Smothering
- Heart Palpitations or racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or Shaking
- Sensation of a Choking Feeling
- Feelings of unreality or detached from oneself
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Chills or heat sensations
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks can be a serious and potentially harmful experience, as the symptoms of a panic attack can occur without warning and in circumstances, such as driving a car on a congested highway, where a loss of mental and physical control can place the individual in harm’s way.
The signs of a panic attack can sometimes provide the individual with a few minutes to position themselves out of harm’s way; however, the degree in which these symptoms manifest can vary from episode to episode.
Additionally, once a person has suffered their first panic attack, the experience can cause the individual to become fearful of the possibility of a subsequent episode. This, in turn, puts them into an increased vigilant emotional state of anticipatory anxiety of another panic attack or elevated stress. Making matters worse for the sufferer, is the fact that panic attacks are not necessarily brought on by a single triggering mechanism but can at times seem “to come from out of the blue”; panic attack episodes are often the result of a combination of different stress and genetic factors as well as sometimes a childhood history of trauma or fear of abandonment resulting in a “perfect storm."
Living with Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Living with the threat of another panic attack produces more anxiety and apprehension of the next panic attack and feeling helpless to prevent or stop it.
In severe circumstances where the individual is suffering from an extreme amount of stress and has already experienced a prior panic attack, one’s threshold may now be lower for having another panic attack. The next panic attack only reinforces this vicious cycle and further lowers one’s self-confidence and sense of safety.
This dynamic of fear can cause afflicted individuals to shy away from public places and from activities that might trigger another panic episode. Due to one’s fear of loss of control again, the sufferer may try to reduce the possibilities of having further panic attacks by now avoiding activities that were previously enjoyable such shopping at the mall, going to a movie, or working out at the gym. This self-imposed isolation stems from a feeling of needing to feel safe and can lead to issues of depression and sometimes substance abuse —all of which have the capacity to make an anxiety disorder worse.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
There are many causes of panic attacks or factors that play a role, and as previously mentioned, panic attacks don’t typically occur for any one particular reason: panic attacks occur when the individual’s brain-body connection is triggered into a severe “fight or flight response” whereby you are overwhelmed with fear or feeling acutely endangered even though physically you are safe. Panic attacks can be the result of numerous factors such as a history of childhood abuse, anxiety sensitivity, environmental stressors, losses in one’s life, genetic predispositions in the brain, and smoking.
Families who have a history of suffering from different types of anxiety disorders are more likely to produce offspring who are susceptible to the same sort of anxiety related symptoms. This isn’t to say that the offspring of these individuals are guaranteed to have an anxiety episode, but they do carry a higher risk of experiencing a panic attack compared to others who do not have a family history of anxiety disorders.
As such, those who do belong to families with a history of anxiety disorders should take extra care to eliminate or minimize the many different stress factors that might contribute to panic disorders.
By developing improved coping abilities and self-regulation skills with biofeedback/neurofeedback, you can effectively reduce both the risk of developing panic disorder and other types of anxiety disorders.
One of the main catalysts for panic attacks in all individuals is stress. Stress in itself isn’t necessarily something that should be cause for concern since stress is part of our lives; in fact, our “fight or flight” response system is an essential part of our ability to defend ourselves in true dangerous and life-threatening situations but is rare for many individuals in the United States
However, when this “fight or flight” response system becomes triggered frequently and becomes over activated, it can cause other systems in our body to become dysregulated. When this emergency response system comes into effect, the body increases the production of hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and cortisol, which can cause other systems in the body, such as the immune system and digestive system, to shut down or become dysregulated until the body returns to a normal balanced state of homeostasis. It is important to note, that if the stress is so severe or chronic as to cause the individual to experience lingering feelings of anxiety, the body’s other systems may never fully shift back to a healthy homeostasis.
Chronic stress can also lead to other disorders such as hypertension, which is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes. A dangerous aspect of stress is its self-perpetuating nature: the resulting symptoms of chronic stress will ultimately lead to more stress in much the same way a panic attack can ultimately lead to more panic attacks. For example, if someone suffering from hypertension as a result of chronic stress has a heart attack and survives, the fear of suffering another heart attack may cause additional stress, which can worsen the individual’s hypertension and put them at even greater risk for another heart attack unless effective lifestyle changes are made along with treatment to normalize blood pressure.
For those at risk for panic attacks, breaking the cycle of stress is one of the most important challenges of preventing further episodes. Without breaking this cycle, the individual is less likely to be able to fully recover from a panic disorder or effectively reduce their risk from suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Abnormalities in the Brain
Panic attacks in some cases can be brought on more readily due to dysregulated circuits in the brain involved in the stress response. These dysregulated circuits or regions in the brain can predispose an individual to go into “a panic attack or experience abnormally increased feelings of anxiety” more readily even under milder stress. Also, prolonged increased stress can disrupt these circuits whereby they can be triggered more easily.
In order to identify these dysregulated brainwave patterns, a qEEG brain map must be performed in order to obtain an accurate analysis of brain functioning linked to symptoms. Through qEEG brain mapping, the networks or regions of the brain that are linked to the symptoms of an anxiety or panic disorder can be identified. This process allows the Drake Institute to create individually tailored treatment programs for each and every patient, which allows us to get to the root cause of the disorder without having to rely upon the use of medication.
Some individual with panic attacks may self-medicate with alcohol or medications and develop a substance use disorder. This furthers debilitates their emotional and physical health, and alcohol or medication withdrawal could precipitate further panic attacks.
How to Stop Panic Attacks
Panic attack treatment usually includes panic attack medication (for immediate and long-term relief), and some form of psychotherapy.
If a person is in the middle of a panic attack, relief can be provided by certain sedative type anti-anxiety medications. These medications, like Xanax, help calm the individual and help them regain their emotional and physical stability; however, Xanax and the like are not recommended for long-term use and one can develop a dependency.
For long-term use, certain antidepressants like Zoloft can help reduce anxiety and the likelihood and frequency of panic attacks; however, it is important to note that utilizing medication for panic attacks in this fashion does not necessarily guarantee that the sufferer will experience long-term benefits since the provided relief is often dependent on the consumption of medication. But medication sometimes can break the cycle.
If the individual does not take steps to reduce the impact of the different stress and genetic factors that are contributing to their anxiety in a non-medicated fashion, their anxiety may return once the administration of medication stops. As such, cognitive-behavioral therapy often produces better longer-lasting results for the patient when compared to treatment plans that are comprised primarily of medication. We feel though that biofeedback and brain map guided neurofeedback is the most effective treatment for panic disorder for long term results.
Treating Panic Attacks with Neurofeedback
For over 35 years, the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine has utilized both Biofeedback and Neurofeedback therapeutic technologies to successfully treat patients suffering from stress and anxiety related disorders. Unlike other treatment plans that rely heavily on medication to subdue the symptoms of stress-related disorders, our treatment plans focus on treating the origin of the disorder to the fullest extent.
By treating patients with Biofeedback and Neurofeedback, we can provide patients with real-time analysis into how well or how poorly their brains are functioning and responding to the external stressors in the environment. This process provides the patient with real-time analysis and insight into when their brain and body or physiological responses are shifting out of a normal state and into a “stress” state. This helps the patient identify the key moments of this transition and enables them to learn to self-regulate effectively, so that their healthy homeostasis can be maintained or restored. This process promotes self-regulation, and through repeated treatments, the patient can “train” their brain/body to respond in such a way that inhibits the progression of both the panic and anxiety disorders, and enables one to recover and heal.
Because we are essentially teaching the brain/mind-body to acquire a new skill, the positive results that are formed through the Drake Institute’s Panic Attack treatment program are typically sustainable long after treatment has concluded, as this skill eventually becomes hard-wired into the individual. This is in direct contrast to treatments involving medication since this type of treatment requires the patient to continually ingest an external chemical compound in order to experience relief.
It’s important to emphasize, that during the neurofeedback and biofeedback treatment, nothing invasive is being done to the patient: the entire process only requires that the patient wears sensors on their head, or sensors over the forehead muscles and a thermometer on the finger monitoring hand temperature so that the real-time analysis can be displayed visually on a computer monitor and through auditory feedback. No medications. Our patients through learning self-regulation are able to reestablish a healthy homeostasis or psychophysiologic balance which reduces or resolves symptoms.
Contact Us Today
Through the Drake Institute panic attack treatment plans, we can help our patients return to a normal, well-balanced state where they can once again enjoy their favorite activities without the threat of an unprovoked panic attack.
If you or a loved one is suffering from Panic Attacks or other symptoms of an Anxiety disorder, please call the Drake Institute now to schedule a no-cost screening and consultation.