What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden strong reaction in the body that happens to you for no obvious reason. This can be a scary experience. The reaction is a reflex called the fight/flight reflex.
Everybody has a fight/ flight reflex!
We have all experienced dangerous situations that suddenly arise e.g. in traffic. The fight/flight reflex ensures that our body e.g. jumps onto the sidewalk and away from a car – quickly, before we even get to think.
We can feel our heart is pounding and inside us everything feels in turmoil.
When our fight/flight reflex is triggered in a dangerous situation, we understand and accept what we feel inside, without fearing it. Our focus and thoughts are preoccupied with the dangerous incident.
- When the reflex starts and in a dangerous situation we do not become scared of the fight/flight reflex in our body
- When the same reflex is triggered for no obvious reason, we become confused and don’t understand, we are scared
When you suffer from panic attacks, you have a fight/flight reflex which, can be triggered, when no real danger is present!
We try to find the reason. Most people get frightening thoughts:
- Is this a heart attack?
- Am I going insane?
- Am I suffocating?
- Am I fainting?
- Am I dying now?
Catastrophic thinking will amplify the intensity of a panic attack so that it becomes even worse.
What happens in the body?
The fight/flight reflex is controlled by the limbic system in the center of the brain. It sends hormonal signals via nerves and blood vessels to the entire body.
Hormones are released in the body and they are the same whether you are in a real dangerous situation or your reflex is triggered because of a false alarm!
Our body is ready for fight or flight in an instant: the heart beats faster, breathing becomes faster and deeper and the big muscles in the arms and legs become tense. The limbic system is the body’s control center. It operates and monitors the body constantly, without we are aware of it.
Reflexes always trigger strong reactions in the body, think e.g. of:
- the vomiting reflex
- the sneeze reflex
Reflexes are beyond our control!
Why do some people get panic attacks?
Genes play an important role in how the body and senses react to internal and external stimuli.
A low threshold for attacks?
Some people have inherited a highly sensitive body. In periods where you are busy or ponder over problems, the coincidence of even minor incidents can trigger the reflex and make a false alarm, a panic attack:
- exposure to unexpected noises, bright lights, smells, many people, traffic
- unexpected changes in the plan for the day
- sleep deficit, forgetting to eat, etc.
In some people unpredictable fatal events, such as when a colleague at one’s own age suddenly dies of a heart attack, may also trigger panic attacks.
We start worrying all the time: If this can happen to my colleague without warning, how can I then register if it is going to happen to me? Thoughts of the vulnerability of the body and the feeling of lack of control, can then create a vicious circle triggering the fight/flight reflex.
How do we respond to a panic attack?
Many people will rush to the doctor. After being told they are not suffering from a medical disease, many will start worrying: We become afraid that ‘it’ will happen again, not knowing when, where or why! The more we worry, the more we become tense and stressed.
- Why can’t I control myself anymore?
- It’s embarrassing!
- Others will think I’m weak!
- This must never happen again
Many begin to monitor themselves
- How does my body feel?
- How is my heart beating?
- Is another attack on the way?
This means that we start to compete with our own limbic system – the body’s control center. Even if we try hard to be in control, we cannot control a strong built-in survival reflex!
Instead we become very stressed, which increases the probability of new panic attacks.
How to cope with a Panic attack?
It is always a good idea to consult a medical doctor for advice on treatment.
If you ponder over problems or find it difficult to ask others for help when you need it, it might be a good idea to clarify this. This does, however, not change the fact that by itself, a panic attack is rather harmless!
When you use the exercises in PanicRelief, you will experience that your panic attacks will last shorter and feel less intense. Gradually you will let the reflex happen, and stop fighting it.
The fight/flight reflex controls your body via a hormonal program
This program has to be played to the end when it first has been activated!
It takes time before the hormones have carried out their mission and become inactivated again. After 10-20 minutes, the body returns to resting state.
If your fear of panic attacks has resulted in strong avoidance and has limited your way of living, you may need professional help before you can start training on your own.