Natural treatments for panic attacks are sometimes recommended to people with panic disorder, a form of anxiety that affects about six million American adults. Marked by sudden feelings of intense fear, panic attacks typically cause symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea. When treated with the help of a mental health professional, panic disorder tends to improve. But while some mind-body approaches show promise in treatment of panic disorder, very few studies have tested the use of natural treatments for panic attacks.
Research on Natural Treatments for Panic Attacks
Although natural treatments like passionflower, kava, and St. John's wort are said to stop panic attacks, there is limited evidence for their effectiveness in treatment of panic disorder. Here's a look at the available findings on other complementary treatments for panic attacks:
1) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Panic Attacks
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of therapy that involves mindfulness-based stress reduction, a healing approach that incorporates mindfulness meditation. In a 2010 study from the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, researchers assigned 23 patients with panic disorder to eight weeks of treatment in an MBCT program. By the study's end, participants showed significant improvements in anxiety and the severity of their panic disorder.
2) Biofeedback and Panic Attacks
Preliminary research suggests that biofeedback may help ease symptoms of panic attacks. Published in the journal Behavior Modification, a 2001 study of four patients with panic disorder found that four weeks of biofeedback therapy helped prevent the increase in respiratory rate often experienced during panic attacks.
3) Breathing Techniques and Panic Attacks
For a 2003 report published in Behavior Modification, scientists sized up nine studies on the use of breathing techniques in treatment of panic disorder. While some study findings indicated that breathing techniques may be somewhat beneficial, the report's authors concluded that more research is needed before breathing techniques can be recommended for prevention or treatment of panic attacks.
Should You Use Natural Remedies for Panic Attacks?
Due to the lack of supporting research, no natural remedy can be recommended as a principal treatment of panic attacks. If you're experiencing symptoms of panic disorder (such as brief attacks characterized by feelings of terror, accelerated heartbeat, difficulty breathing, sweating, and chest pain), it's extremely important to pursue treatment with a mental health professional as soon as possible. In some instances, certain natural remedies (such as meditation and other relaxation techniques) can be combined with your conventional treatment to prevent and/or treat panic attacks.
American Psychiatric Association. "Panic Disorder". Last accessed February 2011.
Kim B, Lee SH, Kim YW, Choi TK, Yook K, Suh SY, Cho SJ, Yook KH. "Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy in patients with panic disorder." J Anxiety Disord. 2010 Aug;24(6):590-5.
Meuret AE, Wilhelm FH, Roth WT. "Respiratory biofeedback-assisted therapy in panic disorder." Behav Modif. 2001 Sep;25(4):584-605.
Meuret AE, Wilhelm FH, Ritz T, Roth WT. "Breathing training for treating panic disorder. Useful intervention or impediment?" Behav Modif. 2003 Oct;27(5):731-54.
National Institutes of Health. "Panic Disorder: MedlinePlus". December 2010.