Let me describe two mechanisms that can lead to a panic attack. First let’s describe a panic attack.
What Are Panic Attacks?
Put simply, panic attacks are the severe end of the anxiety scale. It’s a time when you suffer severe anxiety symptoms just by being in a place, doing something or sometimes just thinking about being in a place or doing something.
The severe symptoms are heart thumping in your chest, racing as fast as it can, big knot in the stomach, feeling hot, muscles at tipping point. Your arms are trembling, your legs are trembling, you’re sweating unnaturally. Your mind is running every disaster scenario it can come up with and you’re focussed but confused. This is the ultimate fight , flight or freeze moment, your system is filled with adrenalin and cortisol and your body is so ready for survival. The only problem is that it was all triggered by something you regard as ridiculous or stupid like thinking of opening the door to the postman or having to go in to a crowded supermarket.
That in a nutshell is what panic attacks are.
Let me describe two mechanisms that can lead to panic attacks.
Mechanism 1 to Build Panic Attacks
Imagine having a bad experience in a particular place or situation. It was something that came out of the blue and caused a massive emotional effect on you. At the time you were busy living through it and getting on with surviving or at least trying to cope.
Your body was in a particular state, doing something. You may have been running fast, you may have been sweating and your body was tense and importantly your mind was in a state like terror or fear.
Your mind remembers the context for the event, it records what your body was doing and it remembers that you survived. Survival is important because it means that if the situation arises again and you repeat those actions then you will survive again. It’s a self protection mechanism.
Severe grief can cause the same effect.
When presented with the situation or even the thought of the situation your body replays what happened so that you will be safe again.
Sounds too simple, sounds so clean cut but it describes a mechanism that holds true so many times.
Mechanism 2 to Build Panic Attacks
Some people don’t get that shock moment to imprint the sequence, they build up their panic attacks slowly.
It starts by thinking about being in a situation and imagining it going completely wrong. You dwell on it and it gets worse because you have one of those imaginations that lets you see just how bad things can be. It frightens you and you get a shiver.
Sometime later you start thinking about it again, you get the shiver, you get the thoughts of disaster and it gets a bit worse. You are worrying without resolution. You feel a bit worse about it this time, the emotions like fear, are starting to build and associate with this memory. Each time it gets worse your mind re-records what you want to do in this situation.
Over weeks you go through this process and you’ve spent so long being in the situation in vivid detail that you’ve built up your own little world of severe anxiety.
This has been built almost completely from catastrophic thought.
What Can Be Done About Panic Attacks?
You can learn to wind down the emotion associated with the situation where panic attacks occur.
Sounds easy and sometimes it is straight forwards. I have on occasion helped with a severe fear of flying or of public speaking in ten or twenty minutes. They were people who couldn’t even think about the situation without tears in their eyes or feeling the panic rising.
It’s not always that straight forwards but it is possible to get relief from it using eye movement therapies and hypnotherapy.
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