If someone has told you that anxiety and panic attacks require coping mechanisms and anxiety management and that a cure is impossible – they are so, so, very wrong!
If someone tells you that medication and psychotherapy are the solution – they are also very, very wrong!
Let me tell you the truth about panic attacks.
Panic attacks or anxiety attacks, are the result of you developing a level of inappropriate anxiety at which Adrenalin, the hormone responsible for the anxiety reaction, is not used up by either fighting or fleeing from a potential danger. This over-spill of adrenalin can cause you to experience, sometimes, extreme and often distressing physical and psychological symptoms. While disturbing, they are completely harmless.
Panic attacks sufferers can also be subjected to what are called ‘limited symptom panic attacks’ during which, maybe as few as three or four symptoms are experienced.
But most panic attacks produce, sometimes, overwhelming symptoms and thoughts that make the sufferer believe that they are, in some way, ill, about to pass out or even die!
None of which will actually ever happen!
Panic attacks make the sufferer feel very vulnerable as the heart races and the thoughts of either going mad or dying wash over them. BUT, actually, during a panic attack a sufferer is at their strongest, their fastest and their most prepared for danger.
Panic attacks develop because adrenalin, the hormone responsible for the fight or fight response to potential threats, is released into the blood stream. This hormone is very useful if and when, it is required appropriately, but, when adrenalin is released during an anxiety disorder, there is no ‘real’ threat present, so it is not used up by either running from or fighting the threat.
This build up of Adrenalin causes the heart to race, the breathing to quicken and the digestive system to slow down; these systems then produce unpleasant symptoms like dizziness, sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath and many other physical sensations. The sufferer also starts to experience anxious thought patterns… ‘what if’ thoughts which can make them feel like they are losing their mind. Often these thoughts ask:
What if I kill X
What if I harm my kids
What if I jump off X
What if I pick up this knife and X
What if I am gay?
What if I do X to Y?
The list of inappropriate thoughts fueled by the flight or fight response is long but we have heard every single thought from our clients, believe me!
After a while, adrenalin is used up by the body and symptoms start to reduce, but the next panic attack develops faster the next time, as the benchmark anxiety level has been pushed up another notch. The fear of the next panic attack causes the sufferer to enter into a cycle of fear and anxiety which is hard to break.
Or is it?
The anxiety control center in the brain produces these what if thoughts as a way of detecting danger. It sends out messages to the sensory organs (nose, ears, mouth, skin, eyes) to send back data about your environment in order to assess any risk. Of course, in anxiety disorders, there is no REAL risk present to be frightened of, but the sensory organs detect the anxiety symptoms in your body this data is fed back to the anxiety control center of the brain and THESE SYMPTOMS are assessed as risk.
This causes the anxiety control center to react with adrenalin release, which causes more symptoms these are interpreted as risk and the cycle continues!
In essence, you are scaring yourself!
There are three types of panic attacks (anxiety attacks), they are:
Spontaneous Panic Attacks
Spontaneous panic attacks happen without warning and are not associated to any external catalysts. Spontaneous panic attacks are unpredictable and can vary in intensity and usually result in the sufferer developing agoraphobia and limiting their geographic movements.
Specific Panic Attacks
Specific panic attacks happen when the sufferer is exposed to something which they know always causes them to panic. For example, some people may panic in a crowded place or when they see a dog or any other phobic catalyst. Specific panic attacks can also cause the sufferer to withdraw and even develop agoraphobia as a coping mechanism to prevent exposure to the things they fear.
Situational Panic Attacks
Situational panic attacks happen more if the sufferer is agoraphobic. Agoraphobia causes the sufferer to fear public places, crowds or even traveling away from a place or person of security, so it is easy to see why situational panic attacks occur mostly amongst agoraphobia sufferers.
Situational panic attacks happen more frequently on planes, on buses, in elevators and in cars than anywhere else.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attacks may present both physical and psychological symptoms, including:
* Disturbed thoughts
* Feelings of impending doom
* Shortness of breath
* Chest pains
* Stomach cramps or diarrhea
* Racing heart
* Dizziness or faintness
* Tingling in the extremities
* Muscle pains
* and many others…
In fact, the anxiety symptoms list can be very long indeed for most. The symptoms above form the core or most commonly reported symptoms.