What, Me Panic?
Q. I suffer from panic attacks. I am currently taking 5 mg of Xanax three times a day, combined with biweekly therapy with a psychiatrist. I am very interested in a more natural alternative. Do you have any suggestions?
It's estimated that nearly 4 percent of adult Americans experience panic attacks. These involve an abrupt feeling of intense fear, apprehension, or discomfort that can come at any time. They may last seconds or minutes, and may include a choking sensation, a pounding heart, nausea, and chest pain. Panic attacks can be debilitating as well as highly upsetting.
Xanax, Valium, and related drugs, though commonly prescribed for anxiety, are highly addictive and suppress anxiety rather than cure it. They also interfere with memory and mental function.
The best remedy for your condition is neither herbal nor pharmaceutical. You should practice religiously the breathing exercise that I recommend for relaxation. I have seen this work even in cases of extreme panic disorder. It is impossible to be in a panic state if your breathing remains slow, deep, quiet, and regular. You may have to practice the breathing for some time, however, before the technique will allow you to wean yourself off of the Xanax and control the episodes.
If you need some herbal assistance, passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a very mild relaxant. You can take one dropper-full of the tincture in a little bit of warm water up to four times a day, as needed. For a stronger relaxant, try tincture of valerian (Valeriana officinalis). It was used commonly as a sedative in Europe and America before the invention of the first barbiturate drugs. Swallow 10 to 20 drops in a quarter cup of warm water for daytime calming.
Kava, the South Pacific recreational drug obtained from the root of a plant - Piper methysticum - in the black pepper family, is a natural depressant being used in pharmaceutical form in Germany to promote relaxation and sleep. In this country, however, it is not nearly as well-known. The forms of kava sold in health-food stores here are of uneven quality and effect.