In part one of our Panic Attack blog we discussed some of the symptoms experienced. In this section we cover how to understand what is happening and also some methods by which to manage and help yourself through a panic attack
Understanding your panic-attacks and helping yourself
The experience of panic-attacks can be very frightening and can occur at virtually any age. It is most helpful to understand panic as the product of biological vulnerability, unhelpful thinking, problematic coping strategies, and social stressors.
A panic-attack is the same as the body’s normal fear reaction, but it is happening in an ordinary situation. In panic-attacks, the mental and physical mechanisms that measure our normal respond to a threat, tends to be triggered unnecessarily, when there is no actual danger. The “alarm system” to threat becomes too sensitive in panic-attacks, so that many harmless internal or external ‘triggers’ lead to a full threat response in the body. This oversensitivity of the fear reaction is more likely when tired, hungry, experiencing hormonal changes, having taken caffeine, or under stress.
A person, who experiences regularly panic-attacks, typically:
Believes that there physical symptoms of the above “alarm system” will have dire personal consequences (e.g. viewing heart palpitations as sign of a heart attack).
Experienced a traumatic, unexpected, or scary event during their childhood.
Pays considerable and excessive attention to their physical symptoms, which leads to the physical sensations to feel stronger and more unmanageable.
Becomes hyper-vigilant to any changes in their body, which otherwise would be ignored or unnoticed.
Worries about having another panic-attack, which can in itself lead to physical sensations.
Keeps the panic-attacks re-occurring by paying attention to worrying thoughts, hyper-ventilation (over-breathing), and avoidance of the situations that create anxiety.
The following are some tips for managing panic-attacks from our Psychologist, Dr. Austin Bayley.
Make changes to your view of the panic-attacks
Although panic symptoms are very unpleasant, they cannot harm you in any way. The feelings are quite normal and will pass. The feelings themselves are not harmful and do not indicate that there is anything seriously wrong with you. Panic-attacks are only normal reactions that have become exaggerated – they are not dangerous.
Many people believe a lot of myths about panic-attacks. For example, it is impossible to faint, while you are having a panic-attack, because your blood pressure is high as your heart is racing. People only faint when there blood pressure drops. Similarly, panic does not mean you are going crazy or losing control. In addition, panic-attacks will not lead you to have a heart-attack, suffocate, or fall.
Be aware of and develop a different relationship with problem thoughts
Notice what you think before or during a panic-attack. Are you catastrophising – predicting a disaster? Are you over-generalising, jumping to conclusions, personalising, or ignoring the positives? Are you mind-reading or reasoning from your emotions? It is important to check how our thoughts impact on our physical sensations and feelings. Our thinking may be distorted and we will need to question to usefulness of believing these thoughts. For example, “What ifs” can be changed to “So what ifs”. Why not imaging actually coping with the worst! Sometimes putting the brakes on future predictions can also be useful, such as: “The future isn’t here yet, so let’s focus on ‘what is’. Where is the evidence that something bad is happening at this very moment in time?”.
Reassure yourself with positive thoughts and affirmations such as:
- “I’m going to be fine. I’ve succeeded at this before and lived through it. I’ve survived this and worse before”.
- “Soon it will be over. This too will pass”.
- “If I get anxious, it is a cue to find my breath”.
- “It’s just a sensation and I can wait patiently for my body to relax”.
- “I can cope with these feelings”.
- “I can control my fear by controlling my ideas”.
- “I’ll just take my time and start relaxing”.
- Part three of this blog will soon follow so keep an eye out for it. If you think that you might need to seek advice or help with panic attacks please contact us for an appointment.