By Susan Bedrin, Psy. D.
Panic attacks are more common than you might think. At least 20% of adults will suffer from panic attacks at some point in their lives.
Because panic attacks are typically experienced without warning, it is difficult to prevent the initial symptoms from coming on. Rapid, shallow breathing and alarming thoughts can make the panic symptoms worse and lead to a full blown panic attack. However, it is possible to stop a panic attack midstream before it becomes full blown by learning to relax through proper breathing and reassuring thinking.
Biofeedback can assist you in learning how to do this. Biofeedback is a non-invasive technique which enables individuals to learn control over certain physiological processes (e.g., anxiety) in order to improve health or functioning. This is done through the use of electronic instruments which measure physiological conditions and feeds back the information to the individual via a visual and/or auditory computer display. The physiological processes typically monitored for panic attacks are muscle tension, vasomotor activity (skin temperature), galvanic skin response (sweat gland activity), and heart rate.
Through biofeedback, you can see you own physiological responses associated with anxiety and use that information to learn how to regulate your breathing and heart rate. Treatment outcome depends on the extent that you apply the skills you were taught in the biofeedback sessions to your daily life.
Avoiding places in which you have panic attacks will decrease your anxiety in the short term, but in the long term, it will create more fear. The more you practice putting an end to panic attacks, the more confident you will become in your ability to manage them. In turn, they should become less frequent.