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3 Ways Panic Attack Treatments Teach Us How to Deal With PTSD

Posted Jun 27 2012 9:17am

Guest Post By Ryan Rivera

While I grew up suffering from severe anxiety disorders and panic attacks, I was blessed not to suffer  from PTSD. PTSD is triggered by traumatic life events, and while I’ve had my share of hard times, I am thankful every day that I never had to suffer through that type of struggle.

But I know many people that have – indeed, many people looking for help have contacted me for that very reason. As I worked with them, I realized that some of the same strategies I used to help reduce my panic attacks may be just as effective for those with PTSD. So I’d like to share them here, with the caveat that – like all anxiety disorders – PTSD is something that often benefits from its own specific care.

Treating Panic Attacks and PTSD 

  • Embracing the Attack

Panic attacks, like PTSD, involve a great deal of hypersensitivity. There’s an awareness of both our surroundings and how we feel all of the time, and that awareness becomes so pronounced that we start to notice things that aren’t really happening, simply because they’re similar. With panic attacks it may be a slightly elevated heart rate. With PTSD it may be a loud noise or the sight of someone that looks familiar.

I learned something from Japanese psychology that helped me cure my panic attacks: The idea of embracing panic attacks rather than fighting them. Normally I would spend all day trying not to have one and, of course, that would only increase my hypersensitivity and increase the severity and frequency of my panic attacks. But if I went into situations expecting them – waiting for them – I noticed the frequency and severity when down. I would go somewhere, wait for it, and it either came and was
less severe or never came at all.

I’ve found that for many, this can help with PTSD as well. Rath er than worry about the symptoms of PTSD, you can try to expect it. For example “Tonight I expect to hear a loud noise that will trigger intense fear” or “I know that if I go out tonight I may find strangers to be more frightening.” While those living with PTSD know that that is a likelihood, few are expecting it and, in a way “embracing PTSD.” Like with panic attacks, most people still want to avoid the symptoms. But perhaps embracing it like a friend will make it easier to cope with.

  • Finding Supportive Friends

Never underestimate the power of supportive friends. Knowing someone is there with you to help keep you safe, happy, and healthy is such a powerful benefit. Whenever I had a panic attack, I would call my closest friend. She would talk to me on the phone, letting me know that I’m okay, and just the act of calling her and knowing that she was on the other line helped me feel better.

Part of living with PTSD (and embracing it, to a lesser extent) is surrounding yourself with positive, understanding people that know that you may be suffering. So by telling them what you’re going through, explaining what you need, and finding people that are always willing to lend a helping hand and an open ear can be so reassuring that you’ll often find that you worry less about your PTSD symptoms knowing there is someone there to help make sure you’re relaxed and back to “normal.”

  • Positive Activities

Keeping yourself active and “unafraid” of your anxiety disorder is an important part of curing it, and that is especially true of PTSD and panic attacks. Agoraphobia is far too common with both panic attacks and PTSD. So engaging in positive activities – playing sports with friends, travelling, visiting museums and socializing – all of these, in many ways, are a part of treatment.

But in a way they’re also facing your fears, because both panic attacks and PTSD tend to cause people to want to close in on themselves – cutting themselves off from the things that give them anxiety. This only reinforces the fear. Maintaining a social life with positive, healthy, productive activities is, in its own way, a treatment, because you’re not allowing yourself to have the behavior reinforced.

Living with PTSD

There are many different treatment options for PTSD, just as there are many different treatment options for panic attacks. But so often it’s your behaviors and your choices that have the strongest benefit to helping you live with an ultimately cure your anxiety issues. Embracing the symptoms, surrounding yourself with positive people, and keeping yourself active and unafraid of your anxiety is going to greatly help you manage and live with it, just as it helped me live with panic attacks.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera suffered from severe panic attacks that had him hospitalized numerous times until he learned how to control them, and eventually cure them. He writes about anxiety cures and related topics at

Opinions expressed in this post solely belong to the author.

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