So what is a Panic attack and why does it feel so terrifying?
A Panic/Anxiety attack is characterised by an episode of intense fear and feeling of impending doom. Admittedly it can be such a severe and utterly terrifying experience that if you are unfortunate enough to suffer them, you tend to become very quickly convinced that you may have cause to lose control, go crazy or suffer a heart attack or something else equally terrifying.
The attacks can come either because there is a identifiable fear trigger in place or they can seem completely trigger less. They can appear sparsely or strike randomly and often, creating immense anticipation fear of the next time it happens and quickly stripping you of your self confidence and quality of life.
Even simple things like shopping or meeting friends can become quite terrifying ordeals that you "get through" rather than enjoy.
This is because you feel so unstable and completely helpless against the wave of thoughts and physical symptoms seem to strike at anytime. Very quickly you are now locked in a cycle of fear and anticipation and we are not sure how to get out of it. You begin to limit your activities and avoid anything that may bring on these feelings as a way of instinctively protect yourself. This reality for anyone who suffers with Panic Attacks.
I know how this can affect people, because for many years I was one of these people. Before my conditions took hold of me I used to look at Depressed and Anxious people and think that they could be dramatising something that they should be able to just overcome easily, how wrong I was.
Before I suffered from Anxiety and Depression I was a very successful Medical Representative at the top of my game. I thought nothing of public speaking to large rooms full of Procurement people or top level Nurses and Doctors within the National Health Service. I was at a high level after a successful career spanning over 20 years. I was also a keen traveller and someone who spent lots of time with family and friends.
Then Panic symptoms struck me and I became one of those people that I used to mock for their dramatisation and not understand. It quickly stripped me of all my self confidence and all the things I once took for granted were taken from me as I struggled to even get through my day.
How wrong I was to jeer people or offer little understanding, I know now just how debilitating Panic Attacks can be, and that is why they can be so scary. A Panic attack is not actually dangerous at all, in fact the only the real danger of Panic Attacks is that you begin to fear them so much that essential parts of your life are completely ruled by your fears.
Sadly it takes suffering from these feelings to really be able to understand what they feel like.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Below I have listed typical symptoms that I have felt during my own journey with panic, at different times I suffered certain symptoms, I found symptoms changeable. As I overcame one I would develop another I was scared of or sometimes I would suffer lots of different symptoms. This is the art of the panic cycle and how it works to keep you stuck. Once you concur one fear, it will begin another one to keep you stuck. There will, I'm sure be more symptoms than I have felt or listed here and so do not worry if you suffer something other than what is below:
- Lack of emotion
- Loss of interest or motivation in anything
- Feelings of hopelessness
- A feeling of that you may go crazy or lose all control of yourself
- Becoming very self conscious and intense worry of what others will think of you
- Constant worrying that you don't seem to be able to stop worrying
- Constant tiredness, difficultly falling asleep or staying asleep
- Depressive moods and thoughts
- Difficulty breathing or hyperventilating
- Dry Mouth
- Feeling a sensation of choking or difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain, tightness or heaviness
- Headaches or feeling of intense pressure in your head
- Dizziness or feeling like you may faint
- Racing heart
- Disturbing or weird thoughts or visions in your mind's eye
- Blurred vision or seeing spots in front of your eyes
- Pins and Needles in your hands or feet
- Hot and cold flushes
- An upset stomach
- A urgent need to urinate or empty your bowels
The symptoms listed above are very unpleasant and can leave you feeling quite frightened, this is because you imagine panic is felt inside your head and so when you are faced with a whole army of horrible physical symptoms it can really start to convince you that something else must be going on and that you are in fact about to die or go crazy.
This is why so many people will end up in the emergency department at the hospital thinking that they are having some kind of quick onset and very dangerous physical illness or heart attack. After tests they are told there is nothing wrong, they are just having anxious feelings it can leave them shocked and bewildered and unsure of what to do next.
The shock from what has happened, tends to place the focus on going over and over things trying to come to some sort of understanding or solution, and fear of it happening again begin. It is this reaction that will turn your Panic Attack into an Anxiety Disorder.
You can be forgiven for the shock and fear that you feel as its very easy to have a reaction like this as it's such a frightening experience, but I think that you can see now how the Anxiety works well to lock you into the cycle of fear. It has to be as terrifying as possible to make you take notice, feeling like you do at this moment is normal for suffering the symptoms of Anxiety and Panic.
Having a good understanding of what is happening to you during Anxious feelings or a Panic attack and what is happening within your body can be the first steps to beginning to overcome your issues.
While the tendency when you suffer these symptoms is to focus on the thoughts, fears and physical sensations that you are experiencing, where actually there is a bigger cycle going on that is generating this. Anxiety is a condition with a cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours and the sensations, fears and thoughts that you are having are symptoms of this condition. Once you break the bigger cycle, these will all become irrelevant and diminish because as bad as they feel, the content spaghetti is irrelevant in the bigger picture.
An example of Anxiety type thoughts would be as follows:
- I am losing my grip on reality
- Oh my god here it comes again, I really can't do this
- I am having a heart attack
- I am about to go mad or crazy
- I think that the Doctor has missed a serious mental illness
- I am about to make a complete fool of myself
- I am losing control of myself
- I need to try and look normal, like none of this is happening
- I need to get out of here quickly
- I'm not right at all, am I a bad person?
- I'm scared that these thoughts mean I will hurt someone in some way
- I'm scared that I am going to hurt myself
- I'm not sure that I can handle these symptoms
These types of thoughts can be terrifying, but they are not real, they are a symptom of the bigger cycle of Anxiety going on and are designed to be your very worst fears. They have to be terrifying as they need to keep you stuck.
Thoughts can be persistent, if you try not to think a thought, it will come more. Resisting your thoughts is resisting your feelings and feelings have to be felt and processed to go away.
Try not to dwell on the content of these thoughts, see them as Anxiety trying to keep you stuck. They are not reality, they are just thoughts and thoughts harm no one or nothing.
Behaviours make up the last link of this cycle.
You see the horrible physical symptoms together with the thoughts of terror you experience, often lead you to perform characteristic behaviours which you feel will help you to keep your Anxiety to a minimum. Your whole focus switches from being in the moment and living life to being obsessed with the next Anxious feelings and monitoring yourself and your moods. Then you begin the cycle of avoidance and perform behaviours to stop these feelings of Anxiety coming.
An example of typical behaviours are:
- Tensing all your muscles
- Shallow breathing or holding your breath
- Fleeing the scene completely
- Trying to distract yourself in any way possible
- Staying with a safe person
- Using Safety Behaviours as a way of keeping yourself safe
- Limiting your daily life, tasks and socialising, in other words isolating yourself
Why are you suffering from Panic Attacks and Anxiety?
This is the part that I believe is not worth dwelling on as it will only cause you to ruminate and that will keep your Anxiety going. It doesn't matter how it started, trying to work it out keeps your focus on Anxiety and is self defeating in the end.
Panic attacks can start with an apparent trigger, such as a period of prolonged stress or a big sudden life changing event or they can just appear without an apparent trigger. Everyone is different in their makeup and how they react to life around them. They come from a subconscious level and so the trigger might be something that you are not even consciously aware of, with that in mind it would be fruitless to keep searching for a cause that you may never find.
It's up to you to show your body in a way it understands that you are safe and it no longer needs to react. It's all about changing the way you react when you feel panic and perceiving what is happening to you in a different way.
It is easy to feel like every Anxious feeling or Panic attack will take you to the point of no return, however the point of no return does not exist and it will never happen, no matter how many attacks you suffer I can assure you of that.