One of the best things you can do is educate yourself. Read about panic disorder and the many things you can do to help yourself, such as getting enough sleep. The following things also help:
Eat at regular times, choose healthier foods and reduce or avoid caffeine, certain cold medicines and stimulants.
Many people with panic disorder avoid doing aerobic exercise as the increase in heart rate and faster breathing may remind you of panic symptoms. Through facing the symptoms and sensations that you fear (interoceptive exposure) you can gradually start increasing the amount of exercise you do. This is an important part of stress management. Aim for 3 sessions of exercise per week, choosing activities that you enjoy and varying the type of exercise so that you are able to establish and maintain a routine.
Some people find yoga, tai chi or meditation to be helpful from an exercise and relaxation perspective.
Relaxation is the voluntary letting go of tension. This tension can be physical tension in the muscles or it can be mental (or psychological) tension. When you physically relax, the impulses arising in the various nerves in your muscles change the nature of the signals sent to your brain. This change brings about a general feeling of calm, both physically and mentally. Muscle relaxation has psychological benefits as well as physical.
Constant tension makes people over-sensitive and they respond to smaller and smaller events as though they were threatening.
By learning to relax, you can reduce general levels of arousal and tension, and gain control over these feelings of anxiety. View these practical techniques for managing stress(external link) from Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind, University of Auckland.
You can also reduce anxiety with a slow breathing technique.
- Take a regular breath (through your nose) and hold it for 6 seconds (use a watch).
- When you get to 6, breathe out and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself in a calm, soothing manner.
- Breathe in and out in a 6-second cycle (in for 3, out for 3).
- Continue breathing in this way until the anxiety symptoms of over-breathing have gone.
- Find a relaxation tape or CD to assist.
Expose yourself to things you fear
Do this gradually. Write a list of things you avoid because of your anxiety and start to slowly reintroduce these activities into your life. Be kind to yourself and set achievable goals. Start with the things you feel least anxious about and move up the stepladder over time to face some of the things you feel more anxious about.
Reward yourself for success even if it didn’t go as well as you had hoped. For example, a person who is afraid of driving because of their anxiety may set a goal to be able to drive to an unknown suburb 20 km away. They might start with short trips in familiar areas and gradually increase the distance from home and explore unknown places.
It's important to feel some anxiety during the exposure exercises and to ‘stay with’ the anxiety until it reduces.
If after trying this for a few weeks, if you are still experiencing panic attacks and/or avoiding situations, see your family doctor for referral to a psychologist.