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Panic Attacks - Reaction and Control
Panic attacks are built on reactions. Some of these reactions are voluntary and are instigated by our good selves, some involuntary and are not in our control. Of course we cannot change how our body reacts involuntarily, that is the body doing what it is supposed to do to keep us safe, but we can change the way we react because it is a choice. Isn’t it ironic that we fear the very mechanism that is in place to keep us safe, that of the fight or flight response? I want to look at the way we react and the choices we do have.
Involuntary Reaction to Fear and Panic
Let’s be clear about the nature of the onset of a panic attack. Despite the fact that some people claim these attacks sometimes come out of the blue, it is my belief that those sudden attacks are still built on an anxious mind-set which of course is a root problem. An anxious thought is a fearful one. The smallest of sensations is enough to trigger a panic attack if we consider those sensations to be alien to us and a threat.
How the Fight or Flight Response Works
To a sufferer, it appears as if all the problems are instinctive, giving no pause for thought. The truth is that a few seconds is all it takes. You become alarmed quickly. You will have effectively told your brain that you need help so adrenaline and other hormones are released and the fight or flight response is started. Your body is just obliging to your mental request. You asked for your body to send you all these awful effects from the fight or flight response but there is nothing to fight. Your heart rate will increase, your muscles will be prepared to fight and your breathing will increase. These are just the obvious signs, but the sufferer may observe many physical sensations because awareness is heightened.
To be able to fight the perceived threat, the hormonal changes also boost our senses. Our eyesight is acute and our level of hearing is heightened. With energy increased to prepare you for running away it all feels like it has a life of its own and there is nothing you can do.
Voluntary Reaction to Fear and Panic.
Although the fight or flight response is quick to serve us, we have a choice as to how we react during those first few seconds. If we consider that there is a very short gap between the thought and the start of the adrenaline rush starts, then we have time to prepare ourselves mentally. It is the response to the sensation felt that starts the alarm bells ringing. It is our interpretation of that feeling. The memory will have told us many times before that a panic attack is on its way. We remember what comes next and feel powerless to stop it. This is the ‘oh no’ moment.
The more we feel we will lose control of what happens next the more we fight it. We fight it and thus encourage more adrenaline to be released. The cycle of fear, adrenaline, more fear, and more adrenaline is what determines the intensity and length of your panic attack. We choose to add a fearful reaction. As I said it doesn't feel that way but it is the truth. A panic attack is unlikely to happen without fear and reaction. No one should ever try to fight a panic attack. Fighting a natural bodily reaction is pointless. We can however choose our behaviour and change our way of thinking.
For many it will be the apprehension in certain situations that builds until a fearful thought sets the wheels in motion for the physical effects to begin. That said, plain old anxiety itself can give you hundreds of weird sensations. Tremors, skin crawling sensations, dizziness, feeling like you might choke, faintness, body vibrations and chest pain are some of the strange symptoms of anxiety alone. Any of the strange sensations that are anxiety based can jump out suddenly and shock you. It is the shock that adds an element of mystery and makes you immediately analyse and add fearful reaction. So, we have many sensations to react to that may lead to a panic attack. We have to decide what we can change and what we cannot. What we are in control of and what we are not.
Analysis of Symptoms.
Anyone who isn’t terribly anxious may sometimes get an odd twinge, a few seconds of dizziness (as on getting up from being seated), a sudden feeling of nausea and so on. When an anxiety sufferer gets these kinds of sudden symptoms or sensations they are magnified.
The sensitized nervous state makes us hyper aware. Immediately we go into self-analysis mode. We internalise immediately with thoughts such as 'oh no, what’s happening to me'? We dwell on whatever that thought, feeling or sensation is, making it appear larger and more serious. A non-anxiety sufferer tends to shrug off that sudden twinge of pain. They will put that sudden wave of nausea down to something they ate earlier or that sudden fleeting chest pain down to a bit of heartburn. An anxiety sufferer has got into the habit of catastrophizing. As soon as this happens fear is added.
Analysis of the physical self and dwelling on how you feel keeps you immersed in a constant state of anxiety. Everyone who has panic attacks regularly will know instinctively if they are likely to be having a panic attack very shortly. They will recognise that odd feeling and similarly they will recognise the same pattern of thoughts and reactions to the signs of an imminent panic attack.
Control the Friends of Panic Attacks
A thought is a thought. Thoughts are merely words strung together with images attached to them. Believe it or not, although it often doesn’t feel like we are always in control of our thoughts, we can certainly choose what reaction to give to our thoughts. Our thoughts can only work against us if we choose to allow them to. Thoughts can be changed. A different mind-set can be nurtured and practised.
We can choose how we react or respond to any sensation our body throws at us. We can give it great importance or no importance. Knowing, by experience that that we never actually pass out die or go mad we can even choose nonchalance! The opposite of fearful reaction is total acceptance and a great willingness to allow the feelings or sensations to be there with no fight or fearful response. This is our choice. This we can learn to control.
What Scares You Most?
Which of these would you be most worried about in the future??
Fearful apprehension has a lot to answer for. This is the beginning of the fear of fear scenario. We can choose how we think leading up to a situation which we perceive may bring about panic. We can worry for days, weeks, or even months on end or we can wait until the time has come. We can be in control of leaving the worry until it really matters. Being apprehensive all the time will keep you in a nervously sensitized state. Choose to allow yourself to only think of that event or situation when the time comes. With no long drawn out build up, you lessen the chances of a negative outcome.
Panic disorder wants us to fearfully react. It wants us to worry and think negatively. This is what it thrives on. This is what makes us feel in a nervously fragile state, tired and despondent. We feel so out of control when we suffer with panic attacks but if you look closely there are things you can change to bring some of the control back. I will be looking at how to address a panic attack directly soon but to change the things I mention here is a good start and will aid in your recovery from panic attacks.