Making Sense of Your Panic Attacks

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If you suffer from panic attacks you probably go to great lengths to hide the fact from others. Even from members of your own family. This can be pretty hard when your heart is racing heart, your hands or feet tingling, you have a pain in your chest and an upset stomach, feel dizzy and disorientated, are sweating, fear fainting el faint, have a shortness of breath and are trembling.

When an attack happen for the first time many people fear they are having a heart attack or some other serious medical problem. Research suggests sufferers may have an underlying biological vulnerability that makes them more sensitive to situations in which they start feeling fearful. As a result they tend to avoid those people, places and activities perceived as threatening, to have catastrophic thoughts and may, after a time, develop physical symptoms as well as associated depression.

Panic attacks can be successfully treated either through self-help or with the assistance of a psychologist. Treatments used by therapists typically include cognitive/behavioural coping techniques (CBT) often combined with medication for optimal results.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

By becoming tense and fearful when you feel a panic attack coming on you are more likely to increase the intensity of the attack. Changes to the way you breathe that typically involve breathing more rapidly and shallowly adds to your problems since this change the composition of gasses in the blood and so increases arousal. Which is why people having an attack and advised to breathe into their cupped hands or a paper bag. By increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs they help restore their system to more normal running. 

Because any strong emotion can trigger a panic attack you should try to replace fearful thoughts, such as “I must get out of here… I cannot cope…I’ll make a fool of myself” with more rational ones. For example, try changing “I’m going to faint “to “I’ve never fainted before and there is no evidence I’m going to faint now.”

Stop such fear arousing ruminations by telling yourself silently but firmly STOP! Imagining says this firmly and confidently and, if only for a moment, that worrying thought will cease since it is not possible for the mind to consciously hold two thoughts at the same time. As soon as the worry ceases, distract your mind by focusing all your thoughts and attention on something outside yourself – the countryside, cloud formations, bright shop window displays and so on.

See the effects of changes in breathing on physical arousal in this video