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Treating Panic Attacks: A Drug Free Model

by Dr. Blumberg on September 7, 2010

Tom’s* Story: Shortness of Breath; Am I am Gasping for My Last Breath of Air?

At 10:00PM last Saturday night, Tom, a 27 year old construction worker, and a group of his friends were watching a long awaited boxing match on pay per view TV. Tom was rooting for his favorite boxer, a former middle weight champion and underdog.  The boxer was battling for his life against a meaner leaner younger opponent.  All of a sudden, the former champion rose up and scored a knockout punch.  Tom jumped for joy with feelings of elation.  As Tom was celebrating his fighter’s comeback victory, he noticed his heart began to race and he started to struggle to catch his breath.

Immediately, Tom gasped for air, desperately trying to restore his natural breathing pattern.  His legs turned to rubber and a wave of lightheadedness swept over him. Now, a feeling of numbness spread across his chest and down his arms and his face and lips.  “This is the end!” He thought.  “I better call an ambulance.  By the time the Emergency medical techs had arrived at his house, the feelings had begun to subside.  The Technician, who examined Tom, told him it was probably a panic attack and referred him to his Family Doctor.

A Drug-Free Approach to Treating Panic Attacks

 When Tom consulted with his Family Doctor, the Doctor conducted a thorough medical examination and then pronounced that he was in good health.  He then wrote Tom a prescription for anti-panic medication.  Tom told the Doctor he did not even like taking aspirins for headaches.  Tom wanted a Drug-Free approach for treating his panic attacks.

The Two Parts of a Panic Attack

 When I met with Tom, I immediately taught him the Two Parts of a Panic Attack.

Tom’s Two Parts of a Panic Attack

 Part One: The Physical Symptoms, natural normal sensations of adrenaline;

Shortness of breath, Numbness, Rubbery legs

 Part Two: the False Catastrophic Thoughts:

Can’t Breath, Stop Breathing, Suffocate, Faint, Die.

A Cognitive-Behavioral Model for Panic Disorder           

 Putting panic under a microscope and seeing the two parts of panic is based on a Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment (CBT) Model for Panic Disorder. This CBT model views panic attacks as a catastrophic misinterpretation of normal bodily sensations. Tom misinterpreted his shallow breathing as a sign he was about to “Stop Breathing.”  

The Terrifying False Thought “Stop Breathing” set off an alarm in Tom’s brain, releasing chemicals called adrenaline.  The adrenaline fed the panic symptoms and the shallow breathing intensified.  As Tom got more and more frightened he was about to stop breathing, it became harder and harder for Tom to get air. But the end was NOT near. In the height of panic, nothing worse ever happens, although, at the time, Tom was convinced “This is the end!”

The Counter-Attack on the Two Parts of Panic

 Tom executed a one-two punch to rid panic attacks from your life.

The One Punch; First, he destroyed his enemy thinking.  When he felt shallow breathing, he convinced himself he would not suffocate.

The Two Punch; Next, he learned to embrace the shortness of breath as part of a feeling of invigoration and excitement associated with celebrating his favorite fighter’s comeback victory.

Five Steps to Treating Panic Attacks without Medication:

 1)      View the bodily sensations of panic as harmless.

2)      Develop a positive orientation toward the physical symptoms of panic.

3)      Develop skills in relapse prevention so you are prepared for the return of panic attack symptoms.

4)      Eliminate “Out of the Blue” panic by identifying your 4 triggers that set off panic attacks.

5)      Understand your core emotional Trigger for panic attacks, the key to living panic free.

 *References to real persons, places and events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended in any way to be libelous, defamatory or in any way factual. This educational information should always be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and review available treatments for panic disorder.



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