The strongest feeling known to mankind
Suffering a panic attack is a terrifying, intense experience. A bombardment of mind and body sensations surge through the system with little warning – sometimes lasting for a few minutes, or 20 minutes or more. It can seem like you are suffering a heart attack, but as frightening and as debilitating as they are, panic attacks are extremely unlikely to cause you any physical harm.
A remarkable survival system
In essence, what is happening is that you are experiencing a very natural bodily reaction known as the fight or flight response, which is a highly efficient survival response that we share with all animals and rely upon when we are faced with life threatening danger. It is triggered automatically and faster than the speed of thought, the unconscious part of our mind springs into action in order to ensure our survival.
The surge of adrenalin through the body increases blood pressure providing strength to fight the perceived danger, the body shakes as it prepares you to fight or run, your pupils dilate so as we can see the enemy better, you feel weakness in the bladder or bowel as the body prepares you to be lighter in order to run faster from the danger. When you stop and think about it, a truly remarkable automatic survival system.
A faulty alarm
Of course, it is very rare that we might find ourselves in a life threating situation today, but sometimes the fight or flight survival response can malfunction, rather like an emergency alarm going off as a result of strong wind as opposed to a break-in. There seem to be five quite different reasons why the panic attack alarm system can malfunction:
- An accumulation of stress, worry and anxiety over a prolonged period of time. Please see Anxiety
- A phobia – an extreme or irrational fear of an object, place, situation. Please see Fears & Phobias.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a condition with psychological and physical symptoms in which the mind re-lives extremely distressing or frightening events from the past.
- Fear of the fear – having experienced one panic attack, somebody becomes hypervigelient of body sensations, focussing on minor physical symptoms and mistakenly interpreting as them as the beginnings of another panic attack.
- The mind senses a body sensation which seems similar, but usually unrelated, to a past feeling (usually from childhood). This is usually outside of conscious awareness.
The good news is that each of these five reasons for panic attacks can be addressed. Some more quickly than others, but very often far more quickly than you might think. If you are living under the fear of panic attacks, a consultation will cost you nothing, but it could be the first step of freeing yourself from this all-consuming and life debilitating condition.
I am a full-time psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and counsellor who has been providing psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, hypnosis,CBT and counselling in Horsham and Crawley for over a decade