Panic Attacks Explained

Symptoms, Tips, Treatment and Help

A Panic attack is an intense feeling of fear, a feeling of impending doom. Sufferers may feel that they are going crazy or that they are on the verge of a heart attack. Panic attacks may feel terrifying at the time, but they are not dangerous, they are just a flow of adrenalin surging through your body. Adrenalin is the cause of all the symptoms you feel, like dizziness, racing heart, feelings of unreality, feeling out of control, hyperventilation and light headedness.

There have been many studies carried out about the cause of panic disorders and although the results are still inconclusive, in my experience and the studies of others, the main cause is due to a prolonged feeling of worry and stress. The worry cup fills up over time until it overflows and manifests itself into a full blown panic attack. There can be other factors like a childhood event, emotional or physical abuse or, as in my case, substance withdrawal. But whatever the cause, recovery from any form of panic is possible with the right help and support.

The scary part for most people is that these feelings of panic don’t seem to come when they are in a situation of danger, these feelings can come at any time of the day for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, what can keep people in the cycle of panic is the fear of having another attack and the avoidance that can go with it. They may have an attack of panic while driving and then associate driving with panic, thus avoiding getting back behind the wheel. In a few cases, people may retreat indoors as they believe that by doing this, they can avoid all the situations that may bring on an attack of panic.

Understanding how you feel

Understanding what is happening during an attack of panic can be the first step in moving towards recovery. An attack of panic, or adrenalin as I like to call it, does not mean you are going mad nor having a heart attack. An attack of panic cannot harm you no matter how you feel; it is something that always calms down in time.

Recovery involves using the right techniques and, again, understanding. If you understand what is happening, straight away you lose a lot of fear and fear is what keeps people in the cycle. You may spend all day worrying about a particular event or situation, building up the worry throughout the day. Is it any wonder when you get there you feel anxious/panicky? You may feel the first symptoms of panic and create a whole host of ‘What if I collapse?’ and ‘Oh my God I cannot cope’. By doing this, you are adding fear to fear, intensifying your feelings of panic. I tell many people to try and stay calm in their attitude while feeling the first signs of panic, to allow the fear to be there and let it burn itself out. Contrary to what you may believe your body can only produce so much adrenalin, so you will never go to the place of no return. Too much adrenalin causes the flight or fight mechanism that is there to protect us, this is why we feel the need to escape. I learnt to allow my fear to be there, almost welcome it and see what it had. I stopped looking for escape routes and stopped using safety behaviours to manage how I felt.

The stage you really need to get to is the stage where you no longer fear another attack, easier said than done when all you may have done so far is avoid and run away from how you feel. The technique is to come out of your safety zone and try and see panic through without trying to control it or put a stop to it, to go with the feelings of panic. By doing this you are telling your body there is nothing to fear. Your body reacts to what you tell it and if you're willing to let the feelings come without trying to put a halt to them, you may feel panic rise but it will not grow. It will not grow because it has nothing to feed on and this is what panic feeds on fear, it feeds on all the “oh my God I can’t do this”, “what if I make a fool of myself?”, “I need to get away”. You are telling your body that you are in danger and it reacts accordingly by adding more adrenalin and feeding your feelings of fear. A lot of people think that if they let panic come without trying to stop it or run away from it that something terrible will happen and they will reach the point of no return. Trust me, this place does not exist. This is what helped me to recover. Your instinct to run away during an attack of panic is a normal reaction, but you really need to go through the feelings of panic, to move towards them willingly. All you fear are these feelings - FACT. It is not the cinema or the crowded shopping centre you fear it is a fear of how you will feel when you get there. So if you deal with yourself no place will hold any fear.

When you start to move towards these feelings, saying “Ok from now on come if you wish, I no longer care”. Understand that these feelings are just adrenalin and can do you no harm. When I started to do this I realised there was no dark place in which I would collapse or lose control. I had seen panic through. I had stopped avoiding as this was obviously getting me nowhere. I am not pretending it is easy, but this is the way forward, I said to myself if I never allow myself to feel fear, how can I ever recover, the next time I am not running away, I want to see where it takes me. If you do this again you have dealt with yourself and not the situation you find yourself in. In time, it will not matter where you find yourself, every situation will be like the other. You will realise for the first time that you do have some control over the way you feel, that there is hope of overcoming these feelings. Fear loves avoidance, so start to take some of its power away, by actively moving towards your feelings and allowing yourself to feel this way.

My Own Suffering

Despite how awful and no matter how anxious I felt I began to learn to see it through even when my instincts told me to escape. A lady once emailed me and said I could not possibly do this, I would collapse, go crazy. I replied how do you know if you have never allowed yourself to feel this way and always retreated? She said you are right and the next time she felt panicky for the first time she allowed it to be there, she was overjoyed that she had stayed in the situation and although fear rose in then cut off to nothing but mild anxiety. She said for the first time in her life she knew she could come through, habit and memory may bring these feelings on for a little while longer but she knew she could cope and nothing bad did happen, in that instant she had lost so much fear of her symptoms and saw them in a different light. She no longer watched her body closely, tuning in to every bodily sensation asking “Is this the start of another one?”.

Many people's lives are dominated by panic and I know how hard this can be. Letting panic come and trying to stay calm while your body rages around you is not easy, but there is no need to climb a mountain in one day, just to do what you feel comfortable with. Little victories can add up and give you the confidence to try more so you can start to broaden your life.

Instead of saying to yourself “I can’t cope”, “I must get out of here” just say “I am fine it’s just adrenalin. Nothing bad is going to happen to me”. If you're planning to go somewhere, don’t fill your day/weeks worrying about it, just go and you may find that you do enjoy yourself and many of the fears you held came to nothing, the actual doing is never as bad as our over active minds make us believe. It is not always how you feel but your attitude to how you feel that can make all the difference.

The person who set me on the right track all those years ago said to me “Paul you are far better moving towards your fears than running away from them”. This is the best single piece of advice I have ever been given.

I have seen many people overcome panic to lead a full and normal life. But again there is no overnight cure and avoid paying out to anyone who claims there is. Also don’t put all your faith in a new tablet or pill, recovery does not come this way. It really is all about knowledge and an understanding of how our body works and reacts. Again the book goes into more detail on the subject and with the right teachings recovery is achievable, I have seen it too often to say otherwise.

Paul David

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