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Christian Counseling - In the Grip of Panic

Most all of us have experienced being overwhelmed by fear that dips into the realm of feeling panicky. This is referred to as a panic attack. Most of the time we know what brought on the attack, such as a specific troubling thought or threatening event. When these attacks randomly reoccur (without a reason or actual danger) along with the fear of having more of them for more than 30 days then a diagnosis of panic disorder needs to be considered. Between 30-50% of those with the diagnosis also present with agoraphobia (anxiety about and avoidance of being in places or situations from which a person may not be able to escape should they have a panic attack). A few symptoms of the disorder include: fear of dying, losing control or going crazy, feeling dizzy, nauseous or having chest pain, sweating, shaking and shortness of breath.

The good news is there are effective treatments for this disorder. Because the acute phase of the disorder (the beginning 2-4 months) most often leads to a chronic problem, it is important to get help as soon as possible. There are numerous research studies which strongly suggest a two-pronged approach be taken. First, begin see the help of a psychiatrist who will likely write a script for two medications--an anti-anxiety (fast acting) and an anti-depressant (SSRI - takes 4 to 6 weeks to reach therapeutic levels). Second, and simultaneously, enter counseling. The combination of these two approaches has the best record of success. Counseling alone can provide substantial relief, but medication helps to quickly get control of the symtoms with the hope of preventing the disorder from becoming chronic.

Effective counseling centers around correcting cognitive distortions ("I can't be assertive because I might hurt someone"), relaxation training (for muscles and controlling breathing), stress management (facing problems and not allowing them to build up) and unhooking from triggers that bring on attacks, such as any change in breathing. My experience tells me that many with panic disorder are consciously or unconsciouslly avoiding one or more particularly strong feelings that need to be understood and resolved through insight-oriented therapy.  Most people can eliminate their panic or, at least, learn to reduce the intensity of panicky feelings.

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