Dear Dr. Archer,
I suffer from panic attacks when I am on the freeway, when on elevated sections or overpasses. This is causing me to drink more than I should.
I am open to any suggestions you have so I can eliminate these panic attacks. Thanks,
For those who suffer panic attacks
, they can very well understand your plight. The sudden surge of overwhelming fear and anxiety is terrifying. Dizzy with racing thoughts, pounding heart and upset stomach, many feel like they are going to die. I'm glad you wrote, because panic attacks are treatable, enabling you to regain control of your life.
I would really like to see you cut down on your drinking, Michael, as you're defeating the purpose. Alcohol
actually increases anxiety on the following day after drinking. I'd like you to try limiting yourself to one, maybe two drinks at most, on a particular day.
The treatment for panic attacks usually involves both medication and/or some type of psychotherapy. Medication, usually an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication, is generally given at the beginning of therapy in order to keep the symptoms under control.
There is a very high success rate with meds but of course many don’t wish to take these. However, a trial of medication is worth it, at least for some temporary relief.
As for what you can do, there are stress management skills and relaxation techniques which can help alleviate many panic attacks. The most important thing you can learn is how to breathe.
Slow abdominal breathing can actually stop panic attacks and help prevent them from occurring. During an attack, this can be difficult, so the key is to practice many times each day so you can do it correctly when necessary. The key is to breathe slowly with your diaphragm and draw in the breath from your abdomen.
Get started now, Michael. Lay on your back, placing a hand on your chest and the other between your navel and ribs. Concentrate on allowing your belly to rise when you inhale and falling when you exhale. Be sure your chest is not moving when doing this. You want to breathe with the belly, or diaphragm, and not the chest. You want to breathe about six breaths per minute, so take it slowly and effortlessly.
If you have trouble accomplishing this, try getting on all fours. In this position the chest tends to lock into place, which actually forces the diaphragm to take over the breathing. Do this to get used to it, all the while breathing slow and easy. When you have it, lay on your back again. When you have that down, try sitting in a chair, standing, while walking.
When you are able to breathe this way, Michael, take a drive to the interstate and drive towards an overpass. Tell yourself there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, and say it out loud. Breathe slowly and effortlessly, and cross the overpass.
If you can learn to face your fear and realize there is really nothing to be afraid of, soon you will be crossing them without giving them a second thought. If you find you need medication to help you through the process, then by all means seek out a good psychiatrist to help you towards that goal. Good luck!