Horrible feeling….. you are unlikely to die of a panic attack or even be admitted to hospital, but it can be a debilitating and isolating illness, leading to an overwhelming sense of fear or apprehension for the person.
- Heart pounding or palpitations
- Mind racing
- Shortness of breath
- Sweat forming
- Dry mouth
- Blank thoughts
- Possible chest pain
So what happens in your brain and body during a panic attack?
The brain has two parts called the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala takes in all the information from the environment and helps the rest of the brain interpret on how to respond. The hippocampus stores all of our memories, including on how we respond to the environment. If there is a perceived threat or a memory of a situation that created a threat, the body is flooded with adrenaline which prepares it for Fight or Flight. Back in the days where we chased buffalo, or were chased, the fight or flight syndrome saved our lives! Not so useful when we are doing our weekly shop!
In response to the adrenaline, our blood pressure increases, and we breath faster, whilst we are trying to bring in more oxygen in preparation. We breathe from our chest (rather than tummy) which increases the amount of oxygen, and helps us get rid of the excess carbon dioxide that is being produced. That can leave us dizzy or feeling short of breath as we hyperventilate.
Blood gets shunted away from the stomach / trunk to the major muscles – which could lead to an upset stomach. Limbs have the increased blood / oxygen so that you can run quicker / fight harder.
We become more aware of the environment as our senses go on high alert and eyes dilate to improve vision. The body will keep releasing adrenaline and stress hormone Cortisol until the brain tells it that the threat has passed. After a panic attack, it can take Cortisol up to 24 hours to leave the body. People describe themselves as feeling out of control throughout a panic attack.
Hyperventilating has side effects including dizziness, choking sensations, difficulty swallowing / lump in throat, chest pain, blurred vision, shaking, fatigue, confusion… Not nice!
What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder is when you have recurring and regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason. This might range from a couple to several attacks per week. Panic disorder can be successfully treated using therapy or medication. Get in touch if you want to know how BWRT and hypnotherapy can help.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by recurring panic attacks, causing a series of intense episodes of extreme anxiety during panic attacks. It may also include significant behavioural changes, and ongoing worries about having other attacks. The latter are called anticipatory attacks (DSM-IVR). Wikepedia August 16.
So if you are unfortunate enough to experience them – what are some of your options?
Managing Panic before it happens
- Learn to breath calmly, from your stomach. It sends a message to your brain that all is well with the world.
- Learning self hypnosis, to calm your mind, cool your thoughts, and breathe steadily
- Learn mindfulness
- Tackle the thing causing the panic attack (if there is a thing)
- See your GP – maybe some ‘as required meds’ will help
- Go running or build up a sweat. Positive endorphins to kill off the excess adrenaline.
- Join a support group – No Panic.
- Learn to relax in between attacks. Yoga / pilates?
- Caffeine might not help as it’s a stimulant. Keep an eye on your diet and lifestyle and look for triggers?
- Unstable blood sugar levels can contribute towards a panic attack. Eat a healthy balanced diet.
- Learn to manage situations where you manage and respond differently to times of anticipatory anxiety. BWRT has amazing results for dealing with panic and anxiety.
During an attack
- Try for immediate distraction?
- If you are driving, pull over and park up until it passes.
- Remind yourself that the frightening thoughts and sensations will pass.
- Count, read a book, play a phone game, make a phone call, watch seconds tick by.
- Anything that makes you focus on something and block out the thoughts and sensations.
- Slow down your breathing – breath in for a count of five, hold for three, breath out for a count of seven.
- Concentrate on positive images
- Longstanding advice is to breathe in and out of a paper bag. Stops you hyperventilating and makes you focus on your breathing.
This has only been a brief overview into anxiety and panic, but I hope you have found it useful.
I am a mental health specialist and have supported people for 20 years with issues such as anxiety, depression, social anxiety disorder, bi-polar, and OCD. As a hypnotherapist, Counsellor and BWRT practitioner, I enjoy helping people deal with issues that affect how they live their life. Get in touch if you would like to book a free consulation.