The following are some good suggestions for first steps to take to address panic attacks and depression. Panic attacks and depression usually go hand-in-hand, especially with women. However, they are very treatable and can be managed well.
What I usually recommend for anyone dealing with panic attacks and depression is the following, which you can adjust to your liking, but this is good advice coming from someone who sees this on a daily basis in his work (all the usual disclaimers about running this by local doctors/counseling professionals applies):
1. Get a COMPLETE physical, including bloodwork and a cardio workup if you haven’t already–panic attacks could be mitral valve prolapse, the depression could by hypothyroidism, for example.
2. Do NOT have JUST a general practitioner managing your medication. I can tell you horror stories of benzodiazepine addiction (e.g. Valium, Xanax, etc.) from GPs who didn’t know when to stop or say no. If it is depression and/or panic attacks, a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner should be managing the meds, preferably one who is well-recommended by other professionals and not just picked at random.
3. I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend psychotherapy too. Research suggests that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective for handling moderate to severe cases, and mild to moderate cases can be treated with psychotherapy alone with good result. Psychotherapy helps with understanding what is going on, getting an educated perspective on what is happening, accessing internal and external resources for coping, and giving you a space to deal with the stress of what is going on. Don’t worry about “why” you have it at this point. Focus on how you can cope. You’ll have plenty of time to explore “why” when you get a clearer head. If you pick a therapist, make sure that they are state-licensed, at least Masters trained, and that they know how to provide cognitive behavioral therapy, and possibly mindfulness-based therapy (both are highly recommended as evidence-based therapies for depression and anxiety). If there is a strong component that has to do with relationships, working with someone who has some experience with couples or family therapy may also be helpful. If possible, get one who is recommended by professionals who have seen good results with his/her work.
4. Getting better involves three things: Health, Social Activity, and Thought Content. Keep it simple and stick to these three things.
–Health: Healthy eating, exercise, sleep. Lay off the caffeine, alcohol, and drugs to the extent that you are able. Medications if a competent psychiatric professional prescribes them.
–Social Activity: Make sure that you are having meaningful conversations with at least 3 people per day, and get out of the house at least 2 times per day to be with people and/or nature. Have at least 1 weekly activity outside of the home that involves fun and being creative with the help of other people. Consider making sure that your family members are also educated about what you are dealing with.
–Thought Content: work with your therapist on finding ways to identify and change negative thoughts to more reality-based thinking. Write down at least 1 positive thing that happened during the day before you go to bed.
5. If you have a spiritual life, ask your Higher Power to help you with these things as well. Access like-minded folk for support.
Any other tips that you have have gone through this (or know people who have) would like to share?
- Women and Panic Attacks (everydayhealth.com)
- Panic Attacks (neumannpsychology.wordpress.com)
- Panic Attacks and Alcohol/Drugs (addictionts.com)