Why do Panic Attacks Keep Happening
The crucial point you have to understand if you wish to overcome panic attacks is The POWER OF THOUGHTS is so in important.
Once a person has become sensitized due to their thoughts, they become anxious over things they didn’t use too. I will give you several examples.
If a panic attack sufferer were to read about somebody who died unexpectedly of a heart defect, this will be enough to trigger panicky feelings. People will often use their imagination on future events such as when they need to exert themselves and then think 'what if I have a heart problem.' They say to themselves 'My heart often beats very fast when I have panic attack and sometimes I get palpitations. This means I must have a heart problem'. The problem with this thinking it creates worry, then stress, and ultimately the individual will have a panic attack when they go jogging or play football.
For Example John, he use to love going to concerts but the last time he went to a concert he suffered a panic attack. His friend asked him if he would like to go to a concert because he has free tickets. John immediately said yes as it was a band he really wanted to see. As the date of the concert drew closer John starts to worry about it. He thinks to himself I use to get so excited about these things but now it’s a nightmare. He images himself in long queues and how anxious he is going to feel. He thinks 'what if I feel a panic attack coming on in the middle of the concert with all those people around me, how am I going to escape? What if I do something crazy and make a fool of myself ?'
Sarah has a presentation to do at work. Sarah use to enjoy making presentations to showcase all her brilliant ideas. Recently her mother had passed away and her relationship with her boyfriend has not been going well and she feels very stressed. Sarah has been experiencing scary sensations that she has not felt before. The presentation has been playing on her mind. She starts to think what if I start to sweat whilst making the presentation, will anyone notice? What if I start gasping for breath in front of everyone will they laugh? She has also been feeling very faint and thinks she may collapse especially as her legs sometime go wobbly.
All of the above scenarios cause anxiety. Although nothing has actually happened to cause harm to anyone, the strange sensations have caused worrying thoughts which have in turn caused REAL PHYSICAL CHANGES.
From this we can deduct that –
1. The way in which we interpret the sensations we feel is crucial in producing panic attacks.
2. Whilst in a state on anxiety if we conclude that the feelings we are experiencing are the prelude to having a heart attack, going mad, fainting then its is only natural that we are going to panic.
3. The power of thoughts has complete control over our bodies that’s why professional athletes will train their mind as well as their body to enhance performance. In other words what we think influences our bodies.
Why do panic attacks keep happening?
Well if you think about this logically there is method to all this madness. All these sensations are intending to make you remove yourself from danger (the fight or flight response). Therefore these physical sensations and mental feelings of impending danger are there to help us, but clearly they are not doing this. They seem to maintain a cycle of panic attacks.
What is happening is when we enter certain situations the same old sensations keep firing off, and this is the crucial part, – WE FEAR THEM. If we never worried and if we totally accepted these feelings. If we let our bodies relax and go as calm as possible and just laughed, the panic would go away. However to maintain these cycles we must be doing the opposite.
- Avoidance is a common ‘safety behaviour’. This term means that the sufferer will take action to avoid a place, person, (whatever it maybe) that’s causes the fear reaction. The fear can be something external but the person also fears the internal sensations of feeling faint, rapid heartbeat (whatever makes them fearful.) After a period of time the reaction is so normal that the person often does not even know why their panicking – it becomes habitual. The classic places tend to be busy places like supermarkets, shopping centres. This leads onto places within places such as lifts within shopping centres and the back of shops. Airports are often described as the worst place as they involve queuing, talking to passport control, confined spaces, etc. Environments which could also trigger sensations also become no go areas such as steam rooms which recreate the sensation of not being able to breath properly.
- A safe person is another issue that can reinforce panic attacks. Its very common in child panic attacks. A ‘safe person’ means that the sufferer will not venture in certain places without a person who they perceive can look after them. In an extreme case a person will not venture out at all without a ‘safe person’. The inability not to be able to leave home is often called agoraphobia. (A book I recommend on this is Overcoming Panic and Agoraphobia )
- Sufferers will often self-medicate in some way which will lead to the cycle of panic attacks reoccurring. For example a person may use alcohol or tranquilisers to help calm them down. There are many different things that the sufferer may bring in order to cope with the situation.
- As described earlier, many people will try to avoid over exerting themselves in case this brings on a panic attack as many of symptoms are similar to when you are exerting yourself, i.e. rapid heartbeat, increased breathing, etc.
- One of the most frightening sensations is light headiness and your legs feeling they are going to give way from underneath you. This will lead to the panic attack sufferer sitting down or leaning again walls to help combat the feeling. Of course they are not really going to faint or collapse but the fact they support themselves with some object reinforces the behaviour.
- People often undertake rituals in order to counteract the horrible sensations they feel. So if they feel they cannot breathe properly they will open windows or go outside for fresh air regularly, or they will continually carry paper bags to help with hyperventilation or feeling sick.
Your reactions to the above symptoms and sensations are the reasons panic attacks still keep happening. The human body is setting off warning signals that there is danger present. Of course when we analyse the situation there is no real threat to our lives. Walking into a busy shop, driving a car, not having a safe person with you is NOT A REAL DANGER. Your mind and thoughts have created this environment and it’s only natural that you want to run from this. However in doing this you are only making things worse and reinforcing the nasty feelings.
SO HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THIS?
This is the million dollar question and requires a lot of hard work and persevering as these feelings have become so engrained it can take many months to start mastering how you overcome panic attacks.
Without doubt the first step is to start work in the quiet of your own home. You have to start reprogramming your mind before you enter the situation which causes panic attack. Remember all the good things you use to enjoy about the situation. So if you’re getting panic attacks in large supermarkets think of the nice reasons why you are entering the shop.
This should not be that difficult because people are not born with panic disorder, it is a leant behaviour. It cannot even be classified as a mental illness its nothing more than a habit. So just remember before all these sensations happened, how would you have entered these shops. You would have probably gone in through the doors and seen the lovely fruit and vegetables and thought I really fancy a particular type of fruit.
Most large supermarkets have clothes areas now and you probably thought while I’m here I going to browse for a new pair of shoes. You may then have looked around the shop and thought you are going to try some new dish you haven’t eaten in years. Remember the bread counter and smell the freshly cooked bread. Think of how great that fresh bread is going to taste. Do you get the idea?
You have to think of the positive things that will happen rather than imagining all the negative scenarios. I would thoroughly recommend reading some mediation books and getting some relaxation cds or downloads from the internet - See my resource page. This will only be effective if you put the time and effort in, but it is key to re-programming your mind. Start believing that there are no threats in a supermarket and the reasons you are entering the supermarket are all good, except you need to spend money at the checkout!
Furthermore if you feel anxious when you enter a supermarket its imperative that you do not the start to think what if I have a Panic attack here, Will I make a fool of myself, what if I collapse, etc. YOU CAN ONLY HAVE A PANIC ATTACK IF YOUR THOUGHTS ESCALATE FROM ANXIETY TO THE PANIC LEVEL.
When you have all these horrible sensations such as feeling faint and your legs going wobbly you may use a shopping trolley to lean onto, which reinforces what you’re thinking. In order to gain confidence and change the way you think, do not react to what you’re thinking and feeling. In this case leaning on the shopping trolley is not helpful. Instead reinforce what you have been practising in your meditation. Think how strong your legs feel and that you have had these sensations before but you have never collapsed. Laugh at the sensation and tell yourself it’s your mind trying to fool you but you know it’s wrong and soon you will feel great about yourself again.
Tell yourself that you are a fantastic, confident person. Distract your mind by calmly looking at the food and thinking of what meals you are going to plan for the rest of the week.
Do not worry about the checkout and queues at the end. Just take everything as it comes and relax as best you can. Let your body go as loose and flexible as it can. You know this cannot harm you and you are confident in your ability to cope. If anything, openly hope you will get a panic attack as this will give you all the practice you need to overcome this, and help you overcome the fear of having one.
You will have good days and bad days but over the forthcoming weeks you will start to feel much better about yourself.
Do you have bad and good days? Does this article help you to think more positively??
Here are some books I found helpful in my recovery. If you feel you need some extra help I would recommend these books as a good starting point.
Understanding Panic Attacks: and Overcoming Fear
A very thorough and popular book on panic attacks. The book is easy to read and has a lot of common sense techniques. It gives a great deal of information on the back ground leading to panic attacks and goes behind the biology of panic attacks. It focuses on cognitive behavioural therapy tools to help you and a lot of the practical advice I advocate is in this book.
Panic Attacks: What they are, why the happen, and what you can do about them: What They Are, Why They Happen and What You Can Do About Them A book thats over ten years old but the same principles apply to day as they did then. A good book that covers what to do whilst having a panic attack and an interesting chapter on how to help others with panic attacks. It has some useful tips and will be helpful for anyone suffering with panic attacks, anxiety and agoraphobia.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks - Their Cause and Cure
An Amercan book and definately one of favourites. Fun, easy to read and has a stepped program to recovery. This book taught me some things I did'nt know about panic attacks and is written by someone who has gone through it. The author has also set up a very useful organisation that helps people recover. The book was written in 1993 but everything is still completly relevant.
How to Stop Anxiety & Panic Attacks: A Simple Guide to using a specific set of Techniques to Stop Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, Fear of Driving or Flying and Stress Written by a fellow panic attack sufferer who really has a personable approach to panic attacks. The book really goes in depth in the emotional and psychological factors. The description of panic disorder was exactly how I felt and you can definately feel empathy with how he describes the struggles involved. Geert (the author) also has produced good videos on you tube and a helpful program at ilovepanicattacks. Highly recommended.
Free Yourself From Anxiety: A self-help guide to overcoming anxiety disorders A book with a very caring attitude for anxious people with some great case studies of people who have various anxiety related issues. Lots of sensible, useful and practical information you can apply to everyday life.
Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action . One of the first books I read in my recovery. Its very popular book. Even though its not really designed for panic attack sufferers, the information is still very relative. How you live your life and lifestyle is crucial to overcoming fear.
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