If you experience recurrent and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks, you may have panic disorder. Anxiety and feelings of panic are entirely natural responses to stressful or potentially dangerous situations. But when the level of anxiety experienced is out of proportion with the level of threat, this can begin to impact your wider life in a negative way.

Treatment for panic disorder

Our thoughts determine our attitudes towards a given situation and our attitudes determine how we feel about a situation. For this reason, talking therapies are the most common form of therapy for panic disorder. With the help of a therapist, you can choose from one or a combination of the following approaches, to help you to escape the cycle of ‘fear of fear’ and, ultimately, prevent you from experiencing further panic attacks.

Psychoanalytic therapy for panic disorder

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a form of in-depth therapy that aims to bring unconscious or deeply buried thoughts and feelings to your conscious mind so that they can be explored. It uses analytic techniques to help release repressed thoughts, experiences and emotions. Panic attacks are often unthought inner conflicts manifesting themselves in the body. According to this views stance on the mind/ connection, what is not processed in the mind, manifests in the body. As a therapeutic approach psychanalytic therapy differs from other therapies in that it aims for deeper changes in personality, identity with the self and emotional development.

How does psychoanalytic therapy help with panic disorder?

Because psychoanalysis is such an introspective approach, it is a good approach for any long standing, severe and repetitive issues which have troubled you for a long time, such as panic attacks. Your therapist will work with you to examine how any repressed early memories have affected your thinking, behaviours and attacks. More than anything, your therapist is there to point out some areas which you prefer not to look at and it is those difficult areas which may be unprocessed, manifesting as an attack. Your therapist will interpret any patterns in your responses to words and questions and examine the thought processes behind these with you. They will then point out patterns and discuss their implications with you.

CBT therapy for panic disorder

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy usually involves identifying the root source of your anxiety, removing any perpetuating factors which contribute towards it, and building coping strategies to overcome any negative thought cycles which induce attacks. If you prefer not to spend too much time talking about your past, and you feel that your current situation is one that affects your anxiety, then CBT treatment is a suitable treatment for you.

How does CBT help with panic disorder?

During your sessions, you and your therapist with discuss how you react and what you think about when you are experiencing a panic attack. With your permission, your therapist will occasionally challenge your thinking patterns and demonstrate how these are impacting how you feel and act. During the treatment, you will learn ways to examine your perceptions and your most common thinking biases, and to develop beneficial behavioural habits which control your anxiety levels. Your therapist can also teach you ways of changing your behaviour such as breathing techniques to help you remain calm during an attack. Eventually, CBT equips you with the knowledge, strategies and an increased sense of self that will enable you to overcome your anxiety independently.

Existential therapy for panic disorder

In philosophy, existentialism holds a unique perspective on the meaning of everything in the world. That is to say, that there is no inherent meaning to everything. Existentialists maintain that all the meaning that we derive from the world, we create ourselves. According to this view, we are all unique individuals with free will and we make our own meaning in life through the choices we make. Therefore, following existential thought, we must look within ourselves to create meaning, assert our values, and make the decisions that shape our lives. Applied to panic disorder, your therapist would explore what meaning you assign to your panic attack or any other anxiety that then manifests as a panic attack. Most importantly what meaning does client assign to their panic attack, and other meanings that cause anxiety that gets manifested as panic attack.

How does existentialism help with panic disorder?

Existential therapy can have strong and lasting effects on people suffering from panic disorder. People often try to deal with their anxiety through a series of self-learnt and ineffective coping mechanisms which can temporarily alleviate anxiety but still impede our ability to experience a fulfilled life. These internal conflicts can grow into more pronounced states of anxiety that impact our lives in a profoundly negative manner.

The first step in treating anxiety using an existential approach is guiding you through a self-investigation process. Like CBT, existential therapy does not place emphasis on past events like some therapy types. Unlike CBT, this approach does take the past into consideration but only so that together, the therapist and yourself can understand the implications of past events.

Instead of placing blame on (or deriving meaning from) past events, existential counselling uses these as insights. From this perspective, past experiences are tools to promote your freedom and assertiveness. Coming to the realisation that you are not defined by your panic attacks and that you are not destined to have a certain future is often a breakthrough that brings liberation and comfort. Existential therapy will help you to see that when you draw any meaning from your panic attacks, you are able to choose an evaluation of them that is meaningful to you. You can create the meaning through your choice of actions which you perform before, during and after your panic attacks. For example by contextualising your panic attacks, not letting them define you, learning how to recognise early symptoms in yourself and preventing them.

What even is a panic attack?

A panic attack is when your body experiences a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms. It can come on very quickly and for no apparent reason. People with any type of anxiety disorder may experience panic attacks. However, when panic attacks are experienced out of the blue, without an apparent trigger, this is classified as panic disorder.

The physical symptoms of panic attacks are naturally unpleasant. Coupled with negative feelings of fear and anxiety, individuals with panic disorder may find themselves worrying about when their next panic attack might occur. This can elicit a negative cycle whereby they start to avoid certain situations because they fear they will trigger another attack. This can add to their sense of panic and may cause them to have more attacks. You can read our blog post on recognising symptoms of a panic attack to find out more about the symptoms associated with panic disorder.

If you would like to find out more about choosing a type of therapy, we have published some helpful posts on our blog, or you can get in touch with the practice today. Blog post: Which type of psychotherapy do I choose?