|Psychiatrist Susan Turner|
Characterized by intense feelings of fear and co-occurring physical distress, panic attacks can be both frightening and debilitating. The sensations of breathlessness, chest pain, and heart palpitations often make the patient feel as though he or she is having a heart attack or another serious medical condition. An attack can last for 10 minutes or more, and many people experience recurring attacks that leave them fearful of the next.
Once diagnosed, panic disorder can be extremely responsive to such conventional treatments as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy. Many patients also benefit from such supplemental lifestyle therapies as meditation, which can help to prevent as well as treat a panic attack.
In giving an individual a point of focus and a directive, meditation is effective in teaching the person to be more aware of fearful thoughts. This in turn can help the person learn to control those thoughts instead of being controlled by them, and this difference can in some patients help to stave off a panic attack.
Similarly, patients who are already in the grip of a panic attack may find that meditation helps to redirect a racing mind, while also reducing physical tension. In time, the breath and heart rate slow down, and blood pressure decreases. This helps to reduce some of the physical symptoms of panic attacks, just as the mental focus helps the person to feel more in command of his or her own mind and body.