Panic and traveling

Question: Dear Dr. Jones, I treated with you about 15 years ago for agoraphobia–and was helped very much by your keen insight into this condition. Would you have time for a quick question? I’ve had a problem traveling long distances from home for most of my adult life. I’ve had periods of remission, lived well despite the condition, working as television reporter, etc. But the problem is, in short, I’ve always limited my travel fearing “the big one.” Now, I want to go to Europe before I’m too old to enjoy! Klonopin works well for me. Do you think if I just plain old up and flew off to Italy, I would not have a “breakdown” if I brought Klonopin?— even if when I got there, I became extremely panicked by facing such a long trip after a life time of fearing it? In case you advise to “work up to it” with smaller trips first–I do note that whenever I force myself to take a trip I always have some degree of panic/pain (although also enjoy the trip!) and one time I had violent panic one week driving 30 miles away–then, flew 1000 miles the next week with less fear! Then, came back and panicked again going 30 miles! For me, sucessive approximation doesn’t seem useful. Thanks so much for any information! Best,
Kate


Answer:

Dear Kate,

Congratulations for not letting Agoraphobia/panic attacks control your life
to any large extent. Although I can’t make specific treatment
recommendations, there are several general principles that apply to your
situation.

First, panic attacks associated with travel in cars, planes, etc., are the
claustrophobic kind which are related to hypersensitivity to increasing
levels of CO2 in your blood – conditioned fear responses and anticipatory
anxiety results in shallow breathing and a build up of co2. The best way to
prevent this is to breathe properly – out first…see my website section on
panic attacks for the full technique. http://test.askdrjones.com/wp-content/uploads/handouts/HO%20Anxiety%20Handout.pdf. Practice this periodically and always use this technique when you
start to get anxious or panicky.

Klonopin is the strongest panic preventer but like most medications needs to
be taken in the right dose. Panic patients tend to take as little as they
can get by with instead of as much as they need. Usual daily dose is 2-3mg
but can be higher. It’s ok to sedate yourself on long flights if necessary.

Desensitization is situation specific – so that being able to fly 1000 miles
doesn’t mean you can necessarily drive long distances. Avoidance or using
escape makes you worse, as does hanging in there but having a horrible
experience. Using proper breathing and or adequate medication to get
through it makes you better. Some people need to add an SSRI or SNRI to
facilitate full desensitization. Positive self-talk and having distractions
can also help.

Good luck!
Dr. Jones

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