Help with overcoming Panic Attacks
What is a panic attack?
A Panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear which can be accompanied by varying symptoms, such as a racing heart, dizziness, dry mouth, sweating and feeling faint. People who experience them may believe they are going to have a heart attack or are on the verge of losing control.
Panic attacks may feel terrifying at the time, but they are not in any way dangerous. They are just a release of built-up energy and adrenalin surging through your body and it is this release of energy and adrenalin that is the cause of all the symptoms you experience. Understanding what is happening during an attack of panic can be the first step towards overcoming them.
Symptoms of a panic attack
- Racing heart
- Feeling like you are going to lose control or that something bad is about to happen
- Pins and needles
- An intense feeling of fear
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Feeling dizzy and lightheaded, like you may pass out
- Feeling the need to escape
- The sense that everything is closing in
- Feeling sick
- Tightness in the chest area
- Feeling detached from your surroundings
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. They can happen at any time of the day, in any situation and for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, what keeps many in the cycle of panic is the fear of having another attack and so they end up fearing, fear itself; which only leads to avoidance behaviours that restrict their life.
They may have an attack of panic while driving and then wrongly blame that as being the cause of how they feel, thus avoiding getting back behind the wheel. Or it could be at the supermarket and so they avoid going there in the future, believing that to be the reason for how they felt. Someone who suffers may also start to retreat indoors, as they believe that by doing this, they can avoid all the situations that may bring on these feelings of fear.
What you have to remember is, that 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 to regain your life, you need to unmask fear, see it for what it is and understand its limits, so you are no longer in fear of fear itself.
Understanding Panic attacks
What causes panic attacks?
The primary cause of a panic attack is a build-up of anxious/fearful energy created through continuous stress and worry. This energy builds up over time to such an extent that the body then needs to release it. This is why panic attacks pretty much always occur to someone who has been through a stressful time in their life.
If we understand this and allow this release to happen, then we will not enter into the next stage. The next stage occurs when we start to fear this uncomfortable release. The fear of this release and what is happening to us is what kicks in the fight or flight mechanism and this is the point in which we experience what is commonly known as a panic attack.
So, a panic attack is nothing more than a release of built-up energy created through worry and stress, which when feared can trigger our fight or flight mechanism, leading to an additional release of adrenalin into our system.
The same process happens when a volcano erupts. There has been a build-up of energy in the mountain over time and so to go back to its calm state it needs to release this excess energy. So, to be free of your own build-up of energy, then you need to allow yourself to experience it. Your body is actually doing you a favour here in releasing it. Understanding this fact is key in helping you to allow this process to happen without trying to avoid or suppress this release.
So, the stage you need to get to is the stage where you no longer fear the feeling of fear; 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 go with the feelings of panic and see this energy surge through without trying to control or put a stop to it.
By doing this, you are telling your mind there is nothing to fear while releasing all this nervous energy within. It is the freeing of this energy that will eventually cure you and why allowing yourself to experience it, is so important.
There is no need to fear, fear
Fear truly is nothing to fear, it is just a surge of energy. Yes, it feels uncomfortable, if it didn’t, then people who were in real danger would not have the urge to escape when they need to. But as far as being something to fear, it is not. It is just an uncomfortable physical feeling that we are more than capable of handling.
A lot of people think that if they let panic come without trying to stop it or run away from it, something terrible will happen, and they will reach the point of no return. Trust me, this place does not exist, and it was this understanding is that helped me to recover.
When you start to move towards these feelings and understand that what you feel is just a feeling, an energy surge that can do you no harm, then a little window starts to open, and you begin to gain some confidence.
Fear grows with avoidance, which follows the laws of how your mind works, as your mind’s job is to protect you from perceived danger. So, if you keep avoiding something and you are presented with the same situation, then your mind believes that you still need its protection and will keep engineering the fight or flight response. It is just doing nothing more than responding to your past behaviour/avoidance.
It is up to you to teach it the opposite by using the only language it understands, which is your behaviour. If you stop avoiding and don’t try to escape at the first sign of feeling fear, then the mind will conclude that you are now OK in this situation and will begin to turn off its overbearing protection system.
How I overcame Fear
My recovery came one morning when I had just had enough of hiding away and seeing my life becoming more restricted. I just decided that whatever happened, nothing could be worse than the existence I was living.
I then concluded that this fear response is hard-wired into everyone, so although it felt uncomfortable, I realised it could not be harmful. Whatever or whoever created us would not be that cruel; the response was put in there to protect us, not harm us.
I then took a decision to live fearlessly, and whatever response or emotions came up, came up. I would not die, collapse or implode. The worst thing that could happen was that I’d feel uncomfortable and I could handle that if it meant having my life back. I didn’t see any accompanying fear as a sign to repeat, I saw it as a sign of me coming out of my comfort zones and growing.
I also realised that the outside was not the cause of my fears; the faulty perceptions and beliefs in my mind were. The fearful/anxious energy triggered within me was also not the fault of the outside; that was already there; my fearful mind just triggered it.
So it no longer made any sense to avoid the outside world or specific situations, as these were not the real cause of my fears. This realisation immediately helped me interact with the outside world more and deal with myself for the solution.
So whenever my instincts to escape or avoid appeared, I would do the opposite. I realised that I had to override my mind’s false alarm and now teach it that I was OK. It could set the false alarm off if it wanted, but I was now taking control back for both our sakes. I had to teach it through my actions that there was no real danger here and I was the only one who could help it understand this fact.
It was my fault through avoidance that the mind had become so fearful of life and situations in the first place, so to lead it back I had to teach it that its fears were false, that I was OK to interact with the world around me and no longer needed its protection.
The road to recovery from fear is within everyone
The mind’s fears govern many people’s lives, and I know how hard this can be. Letting fear 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. 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 energy, an uncomfortable energy, yes, but just energy, all the same, nothing can come of it”. Instead of running for the exit when you feel fearful, just remind yourself that the fear is not real, it is just the mind that is creating it and that it doesn’t truly exist in reality; it is merely a false alarm.
It is not about getting rid of fear, but understanding it so that you no longer fear its presence and then it does not hold any power over you. You also need to understand that fear has its limits, it is not indefinite, it doesn’t take you to a place of no return, it is a temporary uncomfortable feeling that passes.
I have seen many people overcome panic to lead a full and healthy life, but no amount of intellectual knowledge will free you, no magic tablet will make it all go away and there no technique that you need to master. True recovery takes time, understanding and courage.
Knowledge can only take you so far, at some point you have to make that leap and start to go out and live again, even if you start with the small things, these small steps can then turn into huge strides.