Panic attacks: an introduction

Those of us who have experienced a panic attack know how frightening it can be. The symptoms (e.g shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness) can feel so severe that they can be mistaken for a heart attack or serious illness (or even imminent death). Having one panic attack can often lead to worry about it happening again.

Because these symptoms feel so bad, it can be hard to see how they could be a product of an emotional state, anxiety !! Welcome to the body’s alarm system!!!

When the body perceives danger/threat it goes into self-protection mode. Signals are sent to the fear centres in the brain and the result?? the body gets itself ready to deal with the perceived threat. How? It gets the body ready to fight the attacker or run away (“fight or flight”), by speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing other autonomic nervous functions- all to give the body a burst of energy and strength.

Now, what has this got to do with panic attacks? If we experience the above symptoms, in the absence of an identifiable threat (and they feel like they’re coming out of the blue) we may misinterpret these symptoms to be a sign of a serious illness/ imminent death. If we do this, then we will fear the symptoms themselves. If we fear the symptoms, then every time we experience them, the body’s alarm system gets activated, and we experience the symptoms as even more severe. This is what happens in a panic attack!!

As soon as we start to recognize and truly believe that the symptoms are an anxiety response, this should prevent them from escalating into a panic attack. There are lots of things we can do to help this process along. 1) changing our thought process is essential. If we can remind ourselves that these symptoms are an anxiety response and not a sign of anything serious/sinister, the symptoms should reduce 2) deep breathing (look up deep belly breathing on youtube) is incredibly effective for slowing breathing down and reducing the exacerbation of symptoms that often occurs during a panic attack).

Panic attacks are among the most treatable of mental health issues. See the links below to learn more about how you can help yourself, and please share with others who could benefit. If you have tried the suggestions in this blog post but would like additional help, please feel free to contact me for more information or to arrange a free consultation. (Illustration by Gemma Corell)
(* You should always get any medical symptoms you are worried about checked out by your GP)

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